Even before they begin the process most people filing a claim for Social Security disability know they could be in for a long fight. But according to a new report published in the Washington Post the reality is that in 2016 alone more than 10,000 Americans died waiting for a decision of their disability case.
NBC affiliate KARE 11 have also been doing their own investigation, and they found that the average claimant is now waiting more than 600 days – almost two years – for a decision on their case. The backlog of cases is at a record level, and yet Congress broke up for the holidays without passing a budget, a measure that could have been taken to help speed the process back up.
A Record Slowdown
According to the KARE 11 report, in 2013 the average waiting time for a decision on Social Security disability was 382 days. The figures now being reported represent a huge increase and these are just people making their first application, it does not address the thousands who must hire a Social Security disability attorney to help them appeal a case they believe has been unfairly denied.
The Excruciating Wait
KARES 11 reports, as an example of the harm being done by these delays, on the case of Lyle Ryman, a truck driver left legally blind in both eyes after suffering an eye infection. He can still see a little, but not enough to drive a car, let alone the huge semi he once drove to make a living, something both his doctors and his former employers agree with.
Ryman filed for social security disability believing that he had a cut and dried case; a man who can’t see is not fit to drive what, in the wrong hands, can quite literally be a killing machine. To his great surprise however his application was denied, despite his having excellent medical records and employer statements to back up his claim.
He hired an attorney and is appealing the decision, but he has been told it may be another 18 months before the case is reheard. In the meantime, he must try to find a way to help support his family, a difficult proposition for someone who, according to both his own doctors and the DMV in Michigan, where he lives, is not even fit to drive himself to work.
An attorney who specializes in these types of cases says that this man is far from the only one stuck in this kind of legal limbo.
“Those making a Social Security Disability claim and awaiting a decision cannot apply for state unemployment benefits because to do so they have to certify to the state that they’re ready, able and willing to work, attorney Laurence B. Green of Berger and Green explained. “However, with the Social Security disability claim system being so slow, and in many cases unfair, they are facing long periods of time without a steady income of any kind.”
What can be done to speed up the process? According to Social Security Administration officials they desperately need funding to hire more Administrative Law judges and support staff to address the backlog and to give each claim the appropriate consideration it deserves. This sounds like a simple request, but with Congress refusing to pass a budget it is likely that in 2018 the situation will only get worse before it even begins to get any better.