North Carolina Residents Wait Years for S.S. Disability
According to Nancy G. Shor, executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, the wait time for workers seeking Social Security Disability has gotten exponentially worse over the last eight years on a national level. According to her U.S. Senate testimony, the average wait time for a SSD case in 2000 was 274 days. In 2007, the average wait time for disability benefits had climbed to an average of 524 days - or a little over a year and a half.
The situation in North Carolina is even worse than the very sobering national average statistics. Reporter Leslie Boyd found that the Social Security office in Greenville, South Carolina (where many North Carolina cases are processed) is under court order to deal with cases that are over 900 days old - almost three years. The office is one of the slowest and farthest behind in the country, according to a survey taken in Fall 2007, with the average Social Security Disability case delayed for 624 days after filing.
In April, Income Security and Family Support Chairman Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) had this to say: "Today, more than 1.3 million disabled Americans are waiting for Congress to do the obvious: find a solution. We're taking steps to fix this, because these disabled Americans deserve nothing less. The backlog in processing disability claims is a burden and barrier for disabled individuals who are waiting for critical cash assistance and health care coverage."
How does this enormous backlog of disability benefits affect everyday North Carolina residents? Many claimants who are waiting three years for disability benefits become sicker, struggle financially, and are under overwhelming amounts of stress to survive. Some even go bankrupt, become homeless, lose their family, die of their disease, or commit suicide.
Rebecca Bell of Asheville, North Carolina, is just one example of what is happening in the state. Bell injured her back in 2003 and was soon after diagnosed with bi-polar disorder - both of which rendered her unable to work. However, when she applied for benefits, she found herself being rejected even after two appeals spread over the next two years.
As her back pain and emotional pain mixed with the stress of her finances, Bell became addicted to pain medication, lost custody of her children, and lost her home. Bell was finally approved in September of 2007, with the help of a Social Security Disability lawyer.
Many believe that the government counts on as many as half of Social Security Disability applicants to give up during the long and frustrating process. One of the core issues is also staffing by the Social Security Administration, with no increase in staff for the last 40 years, despite a backlog of 12,000 cases in Greenville.