The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has found that most applicants for disability benefits who appealed Social Security Administration’s (SSA) initial disability determination, between 2008 and 2019, waited more than a year for a final decision on their claim.
Median wait times reached 839 days for claims filed in 2015, following an increase of applications during the Great Recession. Wait times have decreased since then as SSA made progress in reducing the wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge. This was prior to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
GAO found that from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, about 48,000 individuals filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a final decision on their disability appeals. This represents about 1.3 percent of the approximately 3.6 million disability applicants who filed appeals during those years.
GAO’s analysis of SSA disability data and death data found that of the approximately nine million disability applicants who filed an appeal from fiscal year 2008 through 2019, 109,725 died prior to receiving a final decision on their appeal. This represents about 1.2 percent of the total number of disability applicants who filed an appeal during those years.
The annual death rate of applicants awaiting a final disability decision has increased in recent years. From fiscal years 2011 through 2018, the annual death rate for applicants pursuing appeals increased from 0.52 percent to 0.72 percent. Applicants who filed their initial disability claim during years of peak wait times and appealed their initial decision died at a higher rate while awaiting a final decision than applicants who filed their initial claim in years with shorter wait times.