The Great American lyricist Tom Petty once wrote that “the waiting is the hardest part.” Mr. Petty, who I believe is wise beyond his years, states that this song is so popular because it applies to many situations. While I believe we are safe to assume Mr. Petty was not actually writing about Social Security Disability when he wrote his song, it does apply. Recently, while talking to some colleagues about Social Security, I was curious about what the hardest part of a Social Security case was for our clients. They responded, almost in unison, by saying that waiting is the hardest part of a Social Security case. Many individuals seeking Social Security disability are aware that waiting is a big part of a case, but they may not be aware as to why. Further, the wait appears to be getting longer. Let’s discuss this in more detail now.
When examining the Social Security timeline, it’s important to know that there is not one single issue contributing to the long wait. There are actually several different reasons why cases take so long and why the wait seems to be getting worse. When most people hear that the backlog of cases is getting worse, they assume that there must just be more people filing for disability claims. That is not the case, though. As a firm, we have not seen a dramatic uptick in cases, and the industry as whole backs this up too. New applications are steady, but there is a not a dramatic difference between now and years past.
The Huffington Post reported the following in October of 2015. The number of requests for hearings has increased, the federal judges who hear appeals have become less productive, there are fewer attorneys on staff who could decide cases without going through the lengthy hearing process and fewer judges overall. All of these reasons are contributing to a longer wait for a hearing. Here we are a year later, and not much has changed. It’s still over 430 days for a hearing. For most of the clients we represent, we tell them to expect at least a 12-18 month wait after the hearing request is filed.
Can anything be done?
A lot of people assume that hiring an attorney will automatically get them approved for their Social Security benefits. Trust me, we wish this were true. A lot of people also assume that hiring an attorney means your case will get fast tracked. This is not true either. Hiring an attorney can be beneficial for your case in many ways, but we can’t guarantee a win, and we can’t speed up your case. What we can do is help you file for your benefits, file appeals, review/submit medical records, represent you at your hearings and answer questions you have along the way. We also keep our clients on track by creating follow up letters and help you get secondary opinions when necessary. The development of your case is key and our office has over 20 years of experience to do so.
You may also wonder if the problems are going to be fixed by anyone. Well, it’s complicated. We can’t really speculate on why judges aren’t being replaced. Obviously, the budget is a concern. With our country going through a transition in leadership, it’s hard to tell what the future holds for the SSA. We hope that the problem is resolved soon.
What should I do?
We are very upfront with all our clients regarding the Social Security backlog. We try to keep expectations in check. We’ve been doing this since 1994, so we know what to expect. However, we understand that this is a difficult time for you and there is a lot of uncertainty during this time. With that in mind, there are a lot of things you can do to help your case during the backlog. For one, continuous treatment will be beneficial for your case. Making and keeping appointments with your medical care professional are among the top things you can do help your case. Being up front with your healthcare provider about how your disability is impacting you will also help you with your case.
If you work with an attorney, it’s important to stay in touch with their office. We encourage our clients to let us know if they move, change phone numbers, have changes in their household and any updates regarding their medical treatment. Our offices utilize case managers too. Case managers are great because they can answer questions for our clients and assist in the development of our clients’ claims throughout the entire process. We encourage our clients to contact us if they have any questions. We want our clients to be educated in the claims process and know we are by their side the entire time.
Overall, the backlog does not appear to be going away anytime soon. Once again, we’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and we know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Which reminds me of another Tom Petty lyric, “I won’t back down.” Social Security cases are tough, but you can’t give up. We are upfront with our clients. If we identify obstacles in your case that makes an approval difficult, we will be upfront with you. However, if we took your case, we believe in it. So, don’t give up. We’ll do whatever we can to help you get approved.