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GAO says SSDI claims process must be fixed

After a thorough review, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in January of this year that found wide disparities in the way claimants for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are treated from case to case. The GAO also found that the claims process itself was taking far too long, especially if a hearing was required. In its findings, the GAO strongly urged the Social Security Administration to undertake improvements to offer greater quality assurance and to ensure speedier decisions and more hearings with more consistent outcomes.

Social Security Disability claimants in Texas - as in all other states - who have requested a hearing are waiting well over a year before their case is heard by an administrative law judge. Nationally, the wait time for a hearing is more than 600 days. Claimants seeking a hearing at the SSA's Houston North Office are waiting an average of 10 months, while those at the Houston-Bissonnet Office are waiting 19 months for a hearing.

Even after a months-long waited, there is no guarantee that cases presenting similar facts will be treated in the same way. The GAO found that different ALJs were reaching widely disparate results in cases that involved the same types of facts and injuries. This lack of consistency from hearing to hearing was of major concern to the GAO, because it indicates a lack of empiricism in a process where people are making claims for benefits from a fund to which they've contributed throughout their career.

Another fact found by the GAO, underscoring the lack of consistency in SSA hearings, is that claimants who arrived at a hearing with a representative, like a lawyer, achieved a successful result three times more often than unrepresented applicants. The GAO could find no reason for such a disparity, but noted that it, too, served as evidence of a lack of objectivity in SSD hearings.

Source: GAO.gov, "SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY: Additional Measures and Evaluation Needed to Enhance Accuracy and Consistency," accessed Feb. 20, 2018

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