As virtually anyone who has been denied disability benefits knows, the wait time to get a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge for your denied Social Security Disability claim is just plain disgustingly long. A staggeringly large backlog of 1.1 million pending case hearings nation-wide has resulted in disability applicants waiting up to 26 months to get an administrative-law hearing on their claim for benefits.
Delays in Disability Hearings Are Common
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to shorten the wait time between from when a disability applicant requested the hearing and when a person actually gets their hearing. In only extremely limited circumstances will the Social Security Administration (SSA) categorize a person’s case as “dire/critical”. Terminal illness, homelessness, inability to obtain medically necessary treatment due to lack of means to pay, and a declaration by the Veteran’s Administration that a veteran is 100% disabled according to VA rules are some examples of what can make a case “dire/critical” status.
The factors contributing to these long-standing, well-documented delays are the same as they were 10 years ago: an increase in disability claims, a decrease in the productivity of the administrative law judges who handle claims, and a decrease in the number of available judges.
So, year after year, hundreds of thousands of Americans with serious health issues lose their cars and their homes as they wait for legitimate claims for disability benefits to be processed and approved.
It’s not just the fault of the SSA, which is crippled by budget restrictions and procedural hurdles that make it impossible to quickly hire qualified judges to process cases. Five years ago, the SSA’s budget was tight enough that it simply began cutting back on the operating hours at field offices such as the one in West Des Moines. Since 2013, the SSA field offices have been closing at noon every Wednesday, limiting the public’s access to staff and claims assistance.
Social Security Disability Must Be Protected
For any of this to change, Congress must act. And Congress won’t act unless it hears from people outside the disability community — people who are willing to add their voices to the chorus of disabled Americans who are being treated unfairly.
Recently Representative Sam Johnson, a Republican from Texas, introduced legislation to significantly cut Social Security. Among other things, the proposed legislation will raise the retirement age from 67 to 69.
For most workers, the bill would cut Social Security benefits substantially. As Michael Linden, associate director for tax and budget policy at Center for American Progress, pointed out on Twitter, a letter from Social Security’s Office of the Actuary calculated workers making around $50,000 would see checks shrink by between 11% and 35%.
Nearly every income bracket would see a reduction, except for the very bottom. People who made around $12,280 in 2016 who worked for 30 years would see an increase of around 20%. But young people making the same amount would be hit hard by the changes. If they had 14 years of work experience by 2016, they would see their benefits cut in half. The plan would also cut entirely cost of living adjustments (COLA) for retirees earning above $85,000.
Democrats are not pleased with Johnson’s plan, preferring strategies like increasing taxes above the Social Security cap—billionaires pay the same amount as someone making less than $118,500—or raising the Social Security tax itself. There has, however, been a bipartisan effort for a payroll tax to help keep Social Security funded. For now, Congress will deliberate on Johnson’s proposal in 2017.
Here is a link to the Social Security Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 6489):
If you are disabled and unable to work, or if you know and care about someone who is, I urge you to look very closely at the pending legislation and consider taking action.
How You Can Take Action Against Social Security Disability Cuts
Do yourself, a friend, or a relative a favor and call or write to your US Senators and US House of Representatives. Encourage them to oppose legislation that cuts disability benefits, raises the retirement age, or cause further delays in the processing of disability claims.
Here is a link to obtain the contact information of Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst:
Here is a link to obtain the contact information of US House of Representatives Rod Blum, David Loebsack, David Young; or Steve King:
At RSH Legal, we represent Iowans who have been wrongly denied disability. We get your case processed as quickly as allowed by Social Security and the appeal process. Unfortunately, the wait time for a hearing is far too long, especially when you needed to have been approved for disability yesterday and not denied in the first place. If you’ve been denied, call our office at 1-319-774-1542. We can help.