files backlogged in a shelf, social security disability benefits

Due to the extensive Social Security Disability claims backlog, a significant number of individuals who qualify for benefits are not receiving the compensation and care they need to recover from their disabling injuries. There are currently over 1.1 million pending applications for SSDI benefits and the average wait time for processing is more than 600 days. This is considerably longer than the reprehensible average wait time of 353 days in 2012.

Dying for Disability Benefits

The number of people who die while waiting to receive the compensation they are entitled to have reached record levels. There are currently more than 7,400 deceased individuals whose names are still listed as having pending applications for SSDI benefits. These individuals had qualifying conditions that entitled them to the receipt of financial assistance, Medicare/Medicaid coverage, family support, and education benefits.

Steps Toward Clearing the Backlog

In 2017, Congress allocated $90 million to the Social Security Administration to help clear the backlog. The funding is expected to help cover the cost of hiring an additional 500 administrative law judges and the staff required to support them. Judges are also being issued quotas and receiving instructions on the steps they must take to reduce the amount of time it takes to review cases. Finally, SSA has streamlined the process of applying for compassionate allowances related to terminal illnesses including cancer and other conditions that are likely to result in the individual’s loss of life. However, these efforts are not expected to eliminate the backlog until 2022. Moreover, as Americans age and more people file disability claims, it is unlikely to have much of an impact.

The Dangers of Denied Compensation and Care

While individuals are entitled to receive financial compensation for the interim period that occurs after filing their claim, the backlog means that this compensation can be delayed until long after an individual’s savings and assets are exhausted. The backlog often means that care and treatment are delayed long after an injury has set in. This increases the complexity and difficulty in treating injuries and illnesses and can unnecessarily prolong an individual’s pain and suffering.