Nothing is for certain, or so it’s been said, and anyone can become disabled at any time and not be able to work. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration provides disability benefits to those who have a medical condition that is expected to last at least a year or result in death. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the system is plagued by a backlog of cases that cause significant delays for those who have applied for disability benefits. There have been cases where some individuals have died before their cases were even heard; and others who are suffering with debilitating physical and mental disabilities are often forced to wait in agony.
Why are wait times for SSDI so long? Good question. The first is the sheer number of applicants in the system. Over the past 15 years, the number of individuals seeking disability has reportedly grown by 66 percent to 2.5 million a year. This, in turn, is due to a number of factors including a rise in the population, the aging of the baby boom generation, an increase in the number of women in the workplace, and a rise in the average retirement age.
Currently, an initial claim can take as long as 6 months to be decided. Moreover, the complexities of the application process often result in applications being denied. If a claimant seeks a hearing before an SSA judge, the wait time grows even longer, and many appeals take 6 or 7 months to be heard. The long delays are not a new development.
In fact the SSA has been falling behind in processing appeals since the 1970s. By the year 2007, there were over 740,000 backlogged cases with average processing times of 512 days. Initiatives were put in place that were designed to reduce the number of pending cases by the end of 2013, to no avail. In fact, the SSA’s efforts had the opposite effect. In September 2015, the Office of the Inspector General reported the SSA had over 1 million pending claims as of March of 2015. There are now over 1,100,000 cases awaiting a hearing before an SSA judge.
In the end, less than 25 percent of initial disability claims are approved, which puts hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans into the four step appeals process. Ultimately, whether you are submitting an initial application for disability benefits or considering an appeal, you should have an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to help you navigate the system and improve the chances of your claim being approved.
SSI beneficiaries who became disabled prior to turning 22 years old may begin to receive SSDI benefits when one of their parents retires, becomes disabled or passes away.