Delays Grow in the Social Security Disability Claims Process
Your Lawyer’s Role Grows in Importance
Recent government reports reveal that the wait time in most Social Security disability claim applications can last over three years. This means that if you file your disability application today, you may not have a decision for two to three years.
At the same time, local Social Security disability hearing offices are losing staff - and the Social Security Administration does not have the funds to staff its offices. During the three year backlog, SSA employees devote only 7 days to working on your file - the rest of the time, it just sits there, gathering dust.
In addition, the Social Security Administration is attempting to replace its paper files with electronic files - this likely means that disability claim files are more likely to get lost or delayed.
What does this mean for the honest, hardworking claimant who can no longer work to support his family, but who cannot get prompt action on his Social Security disability claim?
Social Security disability claimants can no longer assume that overworked SSA employees will have the time to properly process their claims. This situation has led leading Social Security disability claimant’s lawyers to start their representation earlier and to take an active role in “helping” SSA develop its claims files.
Texas Social Security lawyer John Heard reports that his San Antonio law firm Heard & Smith, starts its representation of claimants who have not yet filed claims with the Social Security Administration. “Because our clients are looking for early decisions, we try to get involved at the start of the claim to make sure that the government claims processors have a complete list of our clients’ medical problems and a complete list of all treating physicians,” says Heard. “We take an early and aggressive role in the initial and reconsideration stages of our clients’ claims to increase the likelihood that deserving cases are approved early.”
A lawyer’s early attention to a disability claim can pay dividends later on, should the case end up before an administrative law judge.
Jonathan Ginsberg, a Social Security disability lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia, agrees that more attention ought to be paid to the early stages of the Social Security disability claims process. “For many lawyers, the initial and reconsideration stages of a disability claim are a waste of time since statistically most cases are denied at these levels. I think that this is a mistake. As lawyers, we know what SSA needs to decide a claim - why not provide that evidence early on in the process. At worst, the case will be better prepared if it does reach a hearing.”
Both Heard and Ginsberg agree that with the cutbacks in SSA personnel, the role of the claimant’s lawyer has grown in importance. “We can no longer assume that SSA staff will build a claim file that meets the needs of the judges who decide these cases,” says Heard. It is now our responsibility to update the medical records and prepare the file for hearing just as we might do in a state court case.
With more changes in the works at the Social Security Administration, it is likely that your lawyer’s job will become more important to the claims process than ever before.