The Social Security Administration (SSA) had high hopes, not too long ago, to significantly decrease the number of backlogged disability appeals in the Social Security system. There were plans to hire more administrative law judges, create more hearing centers and implement technologies that would make it easier to process more hearings across the nation. Unfortunately, what the SSA did not foresee was the significant budget cuts that would put most of these plans on halt. Now not only is the backlog of Social Security Disability appeals not becoming smaller, it would appear that the number of appeals has grown larger than it had been.
A recent study shows that a lack of resources, combined with an increased number of annual Social Security Disability claims, may be making the backlog of appeals that are currently in the Social Security system worse than it had been already. The study that was conducted showed that the number of appeals still pending in the current year was 735,660, with the average applicant waiting 369 days to complete the appeal process. During the 2010 fiscal year, that number was only 705,367.
The SSA argues, however, that the number of appeals that are backlogged in the system should not be what the agency is judged on. Instead, the public should look at the average number of days that it takes for a ruling on a disability appeal to be completed. If the time frame is less than 270 days, it should be considered normal processing time. They argue that only cases that take more than 270 days should be considered as a backlog case. The agency also noted that the average appeal processing time has dropped from the 514 days that it was in 2008 to 369 days in 2010. What they fail to mention, however, is that even the 369 day “average” is higher than the goal of 270 days that the agency has set.
Fortunately, there are measures that a Social Security Disability applicant can take in order to increase their chances of being approved for benefits during the initial stage of the disability application process, thereby avoiding the need for a lengthy disability appeal.
Working with a qualified disability attorney can help a disability applicant improve their chance of an initial approval of their Social Security Disability claim. Since the initial application process only takes an average of three to six months to complete, this can save precious time and may help applicants begin receiving their disability payments more quickly.
Fortunately, disability advocates and attorneys are affordable to almost all disability applicants. These professionals work on a contingency basis, receiving 25 percent of the back pay that is awarded by the SSA or $6000, whichever is less. If a claimant does not win their case, the attorney or advocate will not collect a fee.