Many challenges face people who seek Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and as commentator Dan Allsup notes, nearly 700,000 of them wait an average of 14 1/2 months for a hearing while another one million still haven’t even gotten that far in the process.
Allsup works for a company that represents applicants.
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These national figures obscure huge state-by-state variations. An individual with a disability living in Delaware, the state with the shortest backlog, will wait, on average, fewer than ten months for a hearing. If the same individual applied in the District, the wait instead would be almost 16 1/2 months.
These long waits impose real costs to applicants. People with disabilities experience financial crises, extreme stress and declining health while stuck in the federal disability backlog.
Arthur Blair of Gaithersburg, Maryland was a program manager at a group home before a combination of osteoarthritis, severe back pain and depression made it impossible to keep working. During his two-year wait for SSDI benefits, Mr. Blair tapped deep into his savings and had to sell his home after he and his wife were unable to make their mortgage payments. His condition also worsened.
According to Mr. Blair, the process takes away your humanity. Applicants are put into a financially devastating position, and by the time they’re approved, they have accumulated so much debt and lost everything they’ve worked for. It’s almost impossible to recover what they’ve lost.
Anrea Reiss of Woodbridge, Virginia was an office manager before being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive condition that makes it very difficult to breathe. During her almost two-year wait for SSDI benefits, Reiss had to sell her townhouse because she could no longer handle the stairs, and she had to borrow money from friends and family just to keep her health insurance.
Reiss says she was lucky enough to have somebody to borrow money from, but she wonders how other people get by while they wait.
These experiences are typical, according to a recent Allsup survey of successful applicants. Nearly 80% of respondents reported facing “barriers to handling the SSDI process on their own,” including basic problems with understanding and completing the necessary forms. Three-fourths said the level of stress they experienced while applying for benefits was either extreme or significant.
One of the biggest problems is that many applicants don’t realize help is available. Millions of tax filers use professional tax preparers every year, and yet most disabled applicants don’t pursue help until after they have been initially rejected.
The result is too many initial claims are denied for simple mistakes that have nothing to do with the applicant’s disability status. In other cases, applicants who don’t currently meet the standards for disability bog down the system, when a simple pre-qualification process would let them know quickly that they are not likely to meet the standards for benefits.
Many hundreds of thousands of government worker-hours would be saved if more applications processed by the SSA were professionally reviewed, documented and prepared before they were submitted. In turn, the agency could focus its overstressed resources on making application decisions.
I’m Dan Allsup.