People who apply for Social Security Disability benefits generally are living with a serious disability or illness that prevents them from continuing to support themselves through work. Time is not on their side.
But the majority of initial SSDI applications get denied, forcing applicants to appeal. And due to a huge backlog of cases, it can be months before a Social Security Administration judge even hears your appeal — if not longer. Here in the Atlanta metro area, appellants must wait an average of 12 months for their hearing date.
National waiting lists stretches for years
That’s a long time, but it’s actually on the shorter side nationwide. According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, in 2015, the median waiting period for SSDI appeals across the country was 839 days or well over two years. Some had to wait even longer. The GAO reported that ten percent of applicants who filed in fiscal year 2015 were still waiting for a decision in 2018. The wait times have grown so long that 1 percent of appellants between 2008 and 2019 — about 110,000 people — died before getting their chance to make their case before an administrative law judge.
In addition, from fiscal year 2014 to 2019, 48,000 applicants had to file bankruptcy while awaiting their appeal hearings. Having to make ends meet while you are unable to earn an income can be extremely difficult. It is not surprising to learn that some applicants are forced to go into debt beyond their ability to repay. The wait can give them little choice.
Are things improving?
In response to the GAO’s report, the SSA’s chief of staff said the agency has “made significant progress” in cutting down wait times and “continuously seek opportunities to improve the service” that SSDI applicants experience. In the meantime, applicants who are worried about what to do until they are approved for benefits should consider seeking advice from an attorney who practices SSDI law.