No matter the strength of the economy or the party in power, the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Disability claim processing has been broken for decades. It is perenially underfunded so that, according to both disability lawyers and people who have worked for the SSA, it manages its caseload by denying 60% or more of claims. Claimants must then go through the lengthy appeals process which can last several years. I know of three people with MS who have experienced this case management nightmare.
This past (we hope) recession, the Great Recession, as some are calling it, has sparked a large increase in the number of people filing disability claims and a growing backlog. For 2010, the SSA is expecting 3.3 million claims, a big jump from the 2.6 million claims in 2007.
In 2007, the SSA started nationwide implementation of its Quick Disability Determination (QDD) process, which enabled them to cut their initial claims processing time by 6 days to – get this – 83 days. For most claimants, it took three months to find out that their initial claim has been denied. What was the average time for processing claims, including appeals? 441 days, or almost 15 months. That was before the recent surge in claims. No doubt that the processing time has climbed as well. Claimants get retroactive benefits once their claims are approved but how many are homeless by the time this process is complete? How many simply give up? How many simply don’t bother?
The stimulus bill contained funds to help address the problem and the SSA was planning to hire an additional 155 administrative law judges to handle the caseload. In the first half of 2009, the SSA employed 1200 judges.