Thursday, March 26, 2009
Social Security Disability delays frustrate lawmakers
As noted in The Oregonian there are still heartbreaking stories about the delays in obtaining benefits. Apparently despite good intentions the delays can cause extreme hardship. In our area it is common to take a few months for the initial decision and then if denied over a year to obtain a hearing. After the hearing it can take many months to actually collect all the back benefits due, assuming you win. If you are receiving assistance and eligible for SSDI and SSI benefits it can take a great deal of time as the finance people at the agency compute the amounts. They must compute any deduction from your back benefits so you don't obtain more then you are entitled. We all know this should go much faster but historically delays seem ingrained in the system. The agency, according to the news article, has over 63000 employees and is trying to make itself more efficient. Nonetheless, imagine going down to your bank and being told it will take even a month to get your money. I really believe the math should not take that long. However it does take many months to obtain a hearing. Even if the Judge tells you the decision will be favorable at the hearing (which usually does not happen) it can take several weeks for him to issue the formal decision. I always tell those I represent to expect at least 6 weeks. Recently one case took 3 months to receive the favorable decision. Compare this to a workers comp decision which seldom takes very long. I suspect this is a case of inadequate funding to deal with the crush of cases that Social Security must handle. Can anything be done about this? More funding would help but also I think there should be other changes. The longest delays are waiting for a hearing. I'd require another legal review of all cases with claimants over 50 years old to see if perhaps the situation can be clarified so they obtain benefits. Many of these cases involve long term workers with severe enough health concerns that they can no longer work and should more easily qualify for benefits. Too often I've seen claimants denied who have enough health concerns to merit a more careful analysis. Such workers often have worked many years with decent earnings. For them seeking benefits is actually a come down. I also would give more credibility to pain complaints that are consistent with the medical evidence. Pain alone can be disabling and lately it seems that pain is discounted too much. I also think the treating doctor is discounted more then is fair since he likely knows far more about the claimant. There are many ways to improve the system with appropriate safeguards to prevent abuse but it takes an honest appraisal. It would take a dedicated effort to study the existing system. This study could include judges, attorneys, claimants and even doctors.