I have worked with the Social Security Administration and been involved with the disability process for my entire career. I first worked for the nation’s Chief Administrative Law Judge beginning in 1977, and then entered private practice as a disability attorney in 1983. Unfortunately, length of the disability process has always been a challenge for the Social Security Administration. To show how times have changed, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that I worked for in Atlanta from 1978-1983 tried to get all his cases scheduled for a hearing within 90 DAYS of when the hearing was requested by the claimant!! Today, that wait time is over 400 days in many parts of the country and throughout much of the South.
Thus, it was no surprise to me, but very sad nonetheless, to read that the Washington Post reports that in the past year, approximately 10,000 persons passed away before getting a final decision from the Social Security Administration. (There is an expedited process for dire need cases for people who have a terminal illness or other dire need circumstances. These people will have their case often finalized before the person dies). The above cited number, however, is staggering!!
All claimants should be aware that if there case is a strong one, however, many ALJ’s may accept a request for “on-the-record” review. This means the ALJ will review the medical records and the vocational profile of the claimant to see if a favorable decision can be rendered without the claimant a hearing. If your case falls into such a category, you should make sure the lawyer handling your case has reviewed all of your medical records to see if such a request is in order. Most requests for “on-the-record” reviews are denied, but worth a try as you do not lose your place in line for a hearing.
From my perspective the lengthy delays border on gross negligence on the part of the Social Security Administration and the US Congress. This gross negligence goes back to at least, the last two presidential administrations. The last presidential administration is particularly at fault as the necessity for more judges was obvious. Part of the overflow of disability filings is caused by the large number of “Baby Boomers” (people born between 1946-1964) who have reached an age where they are more likely to file for disability. Despite this, the government has been terribly slow in hiring new Judges.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a significant movement to address these issues. We are lacking a very powerful lobbying group who represents the disabled community. As a result, our representatives and senators have not been pushed to remedy this problem. Hopefully, in time, we will see change. It is my hope that in the future, the number of people who pass away while waiting for their case to be processed will be dramatically decreased.
If you need help with the disability process or would like more information about options for how to request an expedited status, please Affleck & Gordon at 404-373-1649.