10,000 People Died Waiting Due to the Disability Hearing Backlog

February 16, 2018

After your initial application for Social Security Disability benefits gets denied, and after your reconsideration is denied, you can request a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for another chance to be approved for disability benefits. But thanks to the backlogs in the Social Security Disability program and the shortage of judges, some applicants will wait as long as two years and many of those people will die waiting for a hearing.

A story in the Washington Post reports that there are about 1.1 million Social Security Disability claimants waiting for a hearing with one of the 1,600 ALJs. In the past two years the Post reports, about 18,701 people have died waiting on a judge’s decision, which is up 15% from 8,699 deaths in fiscal year 2016 to 10,000 deaths in fiscal year 2017. The average wait time for a deposition is not 596 days.

Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges said in the Post story said, “I know that people will die waiting. This is the reflection of our priorities as an American people. We have decided it’s better for people to die than to adequately fund this program. . . Will this get worse? Will the number of people who die double?”

A story on CBSNews.com reports that about 10.5 million people get disability benefits from Social Security, and the agency paid out $197 billion in disability payments last year with an average benefit of $1,037 per month. Last year, about 7,400 of the people on the waiting list for SSD benefits were dead.

The backlog is a result of budget cuts and increasing numbers of applicants. The Social Security Administration plans to reduce the backlog by hiring 500 new ALJs and more than 600 new support staff. CBS News reports that the SSA’s annual budget was $12.6 billion, which is the same as it was in 2011, but with an additional 6 million people either in retirement or receiving disability benefits.

There is a petition on Change.org called, “End Social Security’s Disability Nightmare.” It includes a disability reform bill which the author is trying to bring before the Social Security subcommittees in the House and the Senate.

One way that Social Security Disability applicants might be able to avoid getting caught in the relentless backlog is to work with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney who can guide them through the initial application stage and greatly increase their chances of getting approved. For those who have a dire medical condition, the SSA is expanding its compassionate allowances program, which approves benefits for applicants with certain medical conditions.

At Larry Pitt & Associates, our Philadelphia Disability lawyers help applicants through each phase of their application process for disability benefits. The chances of winning your claim hinge on thorough preparation of your medical records and presentation of detailed evidence about your disability. That is what we do. You may speak with an experienced caring attorney right now when you call us at 888.PITT.LAW or complete our contact form. We represent applicants with disabilities before Social Security offices and judges throughout Philadelphia and the suburban counties of Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery.