Every year, millions of American’s who are unable to work due to disabling physical and mental conditions apply for Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income. Awaiting approval on an application and navigating the appeals process can take years, which for many applicants can be financially arduous since they typically have little to no source of income while they wait. Much of the prolonged delay is due to the fact that the Social Security Administration is facing the largest hearings backlog in its agency’s history. As of March 2015, the Office of the Inspector General reported that the SSA had about 1 million people awaiting a decision at the hearing level.1 That’s equivalent to the entire combined populations of Vermont & Wyoming.
The breaking point for this slow-building backlog began in 2007 when the SSA’s pending level was 743,800 cases with an average processing time (APT) at the hearing level of 512 days. (Please note: this is the time from when a claimant requests a hearing, which is the third step in the process if the claimant was denied at the first two steps. The first two steps alone can take up to a year.) The SSA announced a plan to reduce the number of pending hearings to 466,000 and reduce the APT to 270 days by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. 1 Fast-forward to today – the national average is 1 million pending cases with an APT of 450 days. As of October 2015, the APT for the Eugene hearings office, which serves all of Central Oregon claimants, was 500 days.2 Therefore Central Oregon claimants, when combining the wait time at the first two steps of the process, may wait up to two and a half years to have a hearing with a judge. Consequently, it’s clear that the SSA’s efforts to eliminate the hearing backlog have been unsuccessful, and we are once again approaching new record high wait times.
So Now What?
The SSA still plans to achieve their goal of reducing the backlog of pending hearings to 270 days by 2020. They hope to achieve their goal by increasing the number of judges, making use of new technology and allowing new leadership to tackle the problem. In the meantime, claimants should visit their local department of human services to learn about other avenues of assistance in their immediate area, like qualifying for food stamps, privately run assistance programs and charitable organizations. A great place to start is Oregon.gov. Or, feel free to contact Halpern Law Group if you want more information.
Lawyers often help their clients deal with complicated & stressful issues. Creating a healthy work-life balance in any profession, including the legal profession, is essential to one’s mental and physical health. At Halpern Law Group we believe that when we as lawyers create balance for ourselves, we perform better at work, our employees are happier, and we are more beneficial to our clients and our community as a whole.
At HLG we strive to cultivate an integrative law environment. Cutting Edge Law defines integrative law, or holistic law, is an emerging worldwide movement to create a legal system that grants dignity and voice to everyone that interacts with the legal system. We are committed to the same values of integrative law as cited by J. Kim Wright such as nonviolent communication, empathy, compassion, integrity, and transparency.
One specific example of how HLG attempts to exemplify this is based on our belief that the best possible outcome for our clients’ disability case is for them to be able to return to wellness, so that they can begin working again. Another important part of our integrative mission is making sure their case is handled with the attention and compassion they deserve, in accordance with their unique individual circumstances. No one chooses to be disabled, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and understanding, regardless of his or her circumstances.
Cutting Edge Law: Integrative Law Movement Introduction
Kosmos Journal: Transforming a Dysfunctional Legal System
In recent years, a new trend has become apparent in the field of Social Security Disability: a reduction in approval of SSD cases that proceed to the hearing phase –from approximately two-thirds of cases being approved, down to fewer than half.
The bottom line for Social Security Disability applicants is that severely disabled applicants now face big hurdles to receiving disability benefits. When a judge is deciding the merits of an application, the decision often boils down to small details that the ordinary person might consider unimportant when filling out their application.
That’s why Halpern Law Group is now offering a new Application Assistance Program for no additional fee. Our fee remains the same (as mandated by the government): we are only paid if the client wins their case.
Representing a client from the initial application allows a more thorough understanding of the client’s case. Crucial steps are taken at the beginning of the application process and having someone familiar with this process who knows the law is beneficial. Furthermore, documentation submitted in the early stages of the process may have a substantial impact on everything that follows, most importantly the likelihood of prevailing in a claim.
The SSA disability process can be extremely time consuming, confusing and overwhelming. As a holistically focused law firm, we hope that our clients return to wellness so that they can begin working again. If they are not able to achieve wellness in the short term, our role is to focus on proving that our clients meet the SSA disability criteria. At HLG, we strive to provide peace of mind to our clients and believe that this new service will enable us to do just that.