The current processing time for the average hearing office has increased to 511 days, almost 100 days more than it was a year ago, and almost 200 days longer than it was at the end of 2011. Every day, we have to tell our clients with cases pending at the hearing office that there is no change in their status, that their case is not only still pending at the hearing office, but has not even been looked at yet. Many of these clients have already been waiting more than a year since their appeal was filed, more than 2 years since their application was filed. I have to tell new clients that the average waiting time for a decision at the initial application stage is almost a year, and if denied, like most cases are the first time, they will have to wait at least another year and a half before their case may be processed. These people are not malingerers, or trying to cheat they system. Unlike what the media would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to get approved for Social Security Disability (“SSD”), and almost impossible to "beat" the system. Instead, the media should be focusing on why the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) continues to get away with fraud, with absolutely no consequences.
We represented a 50 year old former Steamfitter for SSD benefits. He suffered from osteoarthritis in his knees, back and hands. He had sarcoidosis; lost his vision in one eye; had almost no vision in the other; could not close his hands; he looked like death, and the ALJ even made comments about the claimant’s appearance on the record during the September 21, 2015 hearing.
Our client had strong support from all his doctors, who each completed Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) assessments, as well as letters from two specialists concluding the claimant met a listed impairment, and hundreds of pages of treatment notes. In the recent past, our client would have been approved without a hearing. However, the system has become so dysfunctional that our client was forced to attend a hearing, after a 17 month wait, and even then, the judge asked for more records from the treating doctors, which delayed the decision even longer. As of today, 42 days after his hearing, his case is still pending a decision.
We learned today that our client passed away this morning. This is the third time in the past year that one of our clients passed away while awaiting a decision. When will the Social Security Administration do something so that people who have worked their entire lives do not have to become homeless and have their health needlessly deteriorate while waiting to be approved for SSD benefits to which they are patently entitled. The consequence of SSA's unconscionable delays is that more claimants are dying while they wait for SSD.