Wait times for Social Security appeals are reaching record levels

Wait times for SSDI hearings are long and the backlog may be leading to some claims being unfairly denied.

The backlog for processing Social Security Disability (SSDI) claims continues to grow, with more than a million applications for disability benefits hearings currently pending. That backlog is hurting applicants in a number of ways, not least of which is through the excruciatingly long wait times those applicants are often forced to endure before they learn if they have been approved for SSDI benefits. The long wait times should serve as a reminder to SSDI applicants about the importance of taking hearings seriously and doing everything possible – including contacting an attorney – to help improve one’s chances of being approved.

Close to two years of waiting

Wait times for SSDI hearings have truly gotten out of hand. As U.S. News & World Report points out, the current average wait time before applicants even receive a hearing is one year and four months nationally. Given that it typically takes another four to five months after the hearing for applicants to learn whether their application has been approved or denied, it can take close to two years before SSDI claimants learn whether they will receive the benefits they often need.

And in some jurisdictions, the situation is particularly bad. Miami currently has the longest wait times for a hearing in the country, at 22 months. Plenty of other cities, however, are not far behind. Even in Tennessee, wait times can exceed the national average. In Chattanooga, for example, the average wait time is 19 months just a for a hearing.

Denials and appeals

The problem only gets worse for those whose claims are denied during their first hearing and who then have to endure further wait times when appealing. Unfortunately, quite a few people are denied SSDI benefits. The percentage of claims that are approved has declined in the past couple decades, even as the overall number of claims has soared. What is worse is that many claims may end up being denied because judges are under so much pressure to deal with the backlog of cases.

As the Springfield News-Sun reports, many administrative judges working on claimants’ cases complain that they have few resources for judging whether or not a claim is valid. One judge points out, for example, that “We are not doctors but we have to make medical judgments.” Unfortunately, that lack of expertise combined with the immense backlog of cases means that many claimants inevitably get denied who may otherwise qualify for benefits.

The importance of an attorney

Waiting years to learn whether one will receive much-needed SSDI benefits can be excruciating. For those who are applying for SSDI or who have already been denied a claim, talking to a qualified and experienced attorney may be the answer. An attorney can help build a case to maximize one’s chances of being approved for benefits – and thus help cut down on the potential wait that an appeal may otherwise lead to.