In our last post, we discussed how disability applicants who have seen their applications rejected twice have the option of appealing via a hearing held before a Social Security judge, who will parse through medical records, ask questions about their condition and work limitations, and issue a final decision.
We also discussed how this can prove to be a rather lengthy process given that recent reports indicate that the backlog at this level now sits at 990,399 cases, with each decision taking an average of over a year.
All this, of course, begs the question as to why the case backlog is so substantial.
According to officials at the Social Security Administration, there are at least two reasons for this astounding logjam of cases.
First, SSA officials indicate that the recent recession resulted in a deluge of new claims with the average disability judge seeing their caseload increase from 589,449 in fiscal year 2008 to 810,715 in fiscal year 2014.
Second, SSA officials blame budget cuts, which resulted in Congress sending hundreds of millions of dollars less than the requested funding, as well as the recent shutdown of the federal government for over a week, which resulted in more cases accumulating in the pipeline.
According to many of the 1,445 disability judges, another factor contributing to the substantial case backlog is outdated rules and procedures.
For instance, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles that they rely upon in every case was last updated over 20 years ago, meaning many modern job descriptions are entirely absent while obsolete jobs (telegram messenger, horse-and-wagon driver, etc.) are still listed. Here, judges must use extra time to contact vocational experts for assistance.
Another factor, say disability judges, is that they do not have dedicated clerks and are therefore required to read through volumes of complex medical records that are often difficult to grasp or even read.
While the SSA has indicated that a new version of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles is on the horizon, it appears as if some of these other issues still exist. Here's hoping both the agency and Congress recognize the need to make meaningful and sustainable reform so that disability applicants can secure faster access to the benefits they need to make ends meet.
Source: The Washington Post, "The biggest backlog in the federal government," David Fahrenthold, Oct. 18, 2014