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Q&A: Why are approval rates on disability benefits down 12 percent?

If you’ve tried to apply for Social Security Administration disability benefits in the past year, there’s a fair chance that your claim has been denied.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives said in a recent newsletter that the average processing time for fiscal year 2014, ending in September, was 422 days. In all actuality, the average waiting time this past September was 454 days.

Why is this happening? How can you avoid long wait times? Harold W. Conick, owner of Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates Ltd., answered some questions about the long waits and SSA disability backlog.

Q: From the average person’s perspective, how will these numbers impact them?

Conick: Well, it’s not happy news. There’s a longer wait and the denial rate is up across the board. Hearing times are increasing, fairly dramatically in some locations. They have all these different offices, some are worse than others

Q: How does the longer processing time hurt the claimant?

Conick: They don’t have money and their claim is not adjudicated. Their ability to get benefits is delayed. That’s a big problem.

It’s a trend and it’s worse than it’s been in 30 years. One chart shows that in the year 2010, the backlog of pending cases was at a little over 700,500 people. Since then, it has grown every year and is approaching 1 million in 2014. That’s four years where it’s grown and they haven’t reduced it.

The hearing time has suffered with an increase of nearly 70 days since the year 2012. The adjudicatory capacity has also dropped even though the number of judges has grown by 18 percent from 2010 to 2013. Long story short, the payroll is up but their efficiency has dropped

Q: Why is this happening?

Conick: They use the excuse that there’s a delay in hiring, but my theory is the reason the backlog has increased is because they don’t have sufficient staff to help them with decisions before and after hearings.

The bottom line is the public should know that the backlog has increased substantially and approval rating is down across the board.

Q: How can people get past this?

Conick: The reality is there probably isn’t a lot you can do about it. but if you think you’re disabled, apply early. It’s a good idea to hire a lawyer sooner than later so you can get your evidence lined up and get in line to file a claim. Also, you need to have someone nagging for you, unfortunately.

My opinion is that they’re short of staff and there’s a lot of inefficiency. I see the inefficiency. I can’t say them all in this post, but I think due to budget constraints, they’re short of staff.