How frustrating is the wait? The vigil sees claimants losing their homes, filing for bankruptcy, dying from an illness or committing suicide. Hundreds of thousands of claimants wait three years for their cases to be resolved, the Times said.
The “death crawl” wait is caused by baby boomers in the 50s and 60s filling out disability claims, cases in litigation and funding shortages which halts the hiring of additional case-review staff. Two and a half million disability cases are filed yearly. Two thirds of those are denied by state agencies based on incomplete documentation. But two-thirds of the 575,000 claimants who appeal win after a hearing before an SSA judge.
Exacerbating the wait is the lack of judges to hear cases. In the meantime, delays strain state welfare agencies providing cash to SSD claimants during their wait.
The Social Security Administration planned to hire 150 appeals judges to mitigate the problem but the proposed legislation sits in domestic appropriations debates. President Bush proposed a $9.6 billion budget for the SSA for fiscal year 2008, but that falls $100 million short in order to hire more SSA judges. Congress approved an increase of $275 million for the SSA in November, but Bush vetoed the bill.
Should the stalemate continue, the SSA will spend current dollars on last year’s budget, forgoing the hiring of additional judges and leading to furloughs, according to SSA Commissioner Michael A. Astrue, who is trying to speed the process. He said the SSA began a faster initial approval for claimants “clearly eligible” and that more hearings are being held by video.