The USA today recently ran an editorial regarding the rise of disability applications during the recession. In the editorial the length of the process is blamed on attorneys dragging their feet to increase their fees, implies people are cheating the system, and seemingly ignores many facts that those who work in disability understand. The Social Security Process isn’t long because of attorneys, its long because a hearing office can only process so many claims each year. Period, end of discussion. A judge can only clear so many cases. They cannot hear claims 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. They need time to review the massive amounts of records in each claim. They need time to look up law, regulations, and SSR’s. Finally, they need time to write and review decisions.
As the average hearing runs about an hour, a judge holding hearings 1 day a week will clear 6-8 cases each time, resulting in clearing about 416 hearings each year (this is outside of cases they award without a hearing). Twice a week a judge will clear about 850 cases a year. For a hearing office with 10 judges, this results in resolving between 4000-8000 cases a year. Thus a hearing office with a 12 month backlog is clearing close to the same number of cases each year as their are being filed.
Further, this article ignores the fact that SSA at the initial and reconsideration level works under some time restraints. Many of these cases are decided without the benefit of all the claimant’s medical records because the doctor or hospital failed to provide them in a timely manner.
While NOSSCR did a rebuttal piece, I don’t believe it went far enough to explain the reality of the system. Or to explain that generally those that apply for disability exhaust their unemployment benefits because they need funds to live off of while they wait. Or the disabled are the first to generally lose their jobs in a recession because they miss work, under-perform, or need accommodations. They become expendable when economies retract and are left to suffer through a system that can lead to their condition worsening. They lose their medical insurance and can no longer afford the medications that were helping them to remain employable. By the time many of these claims are heard and awarded, the claimant’s condition has deteriorated to the point that returning to work becomes impossible.
I’ve heard over and over from my clients, I would work if I could, if someone would hire me. They struggle to pay their bills, obtain medical care, and take their medications. Instead of attacking a system they believe is an easy fix, they need to talk to those that work in the system. The attorneys that work hard to prove their clients cases and do everything we can to speed up the process, talk to the claimant’s to understand the struggles they go through, in order to find ways to improve the system.