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Social Security’s backlog hits the two-year mark

Has your initial Social Security Disability claim been denied? If so, you may have your hopes pinned on an approval during the reconsideration phase.

Unfortunately, if you still don’t gain an approval, that means going to a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). At that point, you don’t have a lot of options except to sit back and wait. That wait is now approaching the two-year mark for many claimants across the nation due to extensive backlogs.

For many disability claimants, those two years are nearly impossible to survive. Unable to work, disabled claimants often have to rely on the generosity of their friends and relatives to secure basic needs. They may also lose access to their healthcare during their long wait.

That can make establishing a clear record of treatment for their conditions, something that’s often useful or even necessary to establish the legitimacy of their disability, more than a little difficult.

While each Administrative Law Judge’s office has its own waiting times, the national average is a jaw-dropping 601 days. The situation in one California office is typical of what’s being seen nationwide. There, the average processing time of 367 days five years ago has since soared to 705 days.

It’s also clear, however, that something is going wrong in the earlier steps in the disability approval process. Thousands of disability claimants die every year while waiting on their hearing at a rate that is two and a half times greater than the average death rate in the nation. That indicates many people who are quite ill actually get wrongly denied.

Once a disability claimant finally gets to a hearing in front of the ALJ, the claimant’s ordeal is far from over. First, there’s no guarantee that an ALJ will rule in favor of a claimant. The decision often rests heavily on the ALJ’s opinion of the claimant’s credibility, especially on claims that are hard to prove, like back injury cases.

These facts alone indicate that it’s important for Social Security Disability claimants to do everything they can to give themselves an advantage when they file their claims from the very beginning. While the process is supposedly “claimant-friendly,” these facts show that it’s anything but.