Why Does Social Security Take So Long to Process Disability Claims?

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Social Security Disability |

In recent years, Social Security Disability (SSD) claimants have been facing extended wait times and delays in obtaining crucial benefits.

Traditionally, the SSA took approximately 110 to 120 days to process initial disability benefit applications. However, as of December, the average wait time has ballooned to a staggering 228 days—that’s more than seven months. And the average wait for reconsideration, the first step in the appeals process for disability denials, is another seven months. If denied, claimants face an additional 15-month wait for a hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge.

Plus, if you call the SSA’s helpline to ask a question, hold times are an average of 36 minutes.

What’s causing all the delays with Social Security disability benefits?

Underfunding and staffing issues are two of the key reasons for the delays.

Since 2010, the SSA’s administrative budget has shrunk by 17 percent. Yet the number of beneficiaries the agency serves has increased by 22 percent. Increased funding would help address the customer service problems, according to the SSA.

But the problems trickle down to the state level. In each state, Disability Determination Services (DDS) are the agencies that determine whether disability applicants qualify for SSD benefits on medical grounds. Yet DDSs are losing staff left and right. Their workforce has declined by 16 percent in the last decade. That makes it even harder to process claims, because since 2015, the agency has been required to have a medical or psychological consultant review every disability claim. That extends the timeline for each case.

As a result, the SSA’s caseload of pending claims has surged. In 2019, the backlog was 600,000. Now it’s more than 1 million cases.

What is the SSA doing to speed up the claims process? Not enough, most say. The SSA has deployed federal employees to DDSs, increased funding for state offices, and enhanced training and mentoring programs. However, there are no quick fixes. What’s needed is a long-term funding increase, but that seems unlikely in the current climate.

How can a lawyer help with your claim for disability benefits?

Claimants seeking to cut their wait time may want to seek the advice of an experienced disability lawyer. A 2022 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that having legal representation early in the disability claims process increased the likelihood of a positive decision on an initial disability benefits claim by a whopping 23 percent.

Research shows that attorneys help claimants complete complicated disability benefit applications in a way that’s more likely to be approved. Plus, hiring a lawyer can lead to an earlier award, reducing the total case processing time by nearly a year.

If you’d like to learn more about how a disability attorney can help with your claim for benefits, reach out to our Richmond law office today.

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