Any disabled person attempting to obtain Social Security disability insurance has likely realized that there is a long backlog of claimants seeking benefits. According to the SSA’s own data, it takes approximately one year before an administrative law judge will decide a rejected benefits claim.
On the initial application, state SSA offices first decide whether a claimant meets SSDI criteria for benefits. The majority of first applications are rejected.
The backlog of appeals has led the SSA to put pressure on administrative law judges to decide appeals rapidly, a recently filed lawsuit claims. The union who represents the approximately 1,400 judges who work for the SSA claims the administration is forcing them to decide 500 to 700 cases per year. This compromises the system and can lead to bad decisions, the lawsuit alleges.
Randall Frye, the president of the Association of Administrative Law Judge, told the Associated Press that the workload violates the spirit of due process for claimants who may have a case that contains 500 pages of notes from doctors and other documented evidence. Judges are “not reviewing all of the evidence, they are not developing the case as they should,” Frye said.
If the SSA has issued quotas it could violate the Social Security Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, the federal laws that govern SSDI. The SSA has indicated that it does not have quotas and that the 500 to 700 caseload number is just a recommendation. The lawsuit argues that the SSA has disciplined judges who have not met the expected workload and has disciplined, threatened and intimidated judges who have not heard as many cases.
Applications for SSDI over the past decade have increased by 25 percent, up to 3.2 million people annually. Some experts attribute this increase to an aging baby boomer population; others point out that disability claims typically rise in a bad economy. SSDI paid $129 billion in benefits in 2011.
An advocate can help
SSDI benefits provide a lifeline to many disabled people. In order to present the best possible case to a potentially overworked judge, it helps to have an organized, well-documented and persuasive case. Disabled people seeking benefits should contact an experienced Social Security disability advocate to help them navigate an overburdened system.