Six Years and Still Waiting for Decision

From the Washington Post: Robert Steers of Southington, Conn., was an Army captain who served in Afghanistan. He also served his country looking for contraband with the Transportation Security Administration. Now, he’d like to get decent service from the Social Security Administration. But, as many Americans know, this can be an exasperating experience, filled with endless waits and growing frustration.

Infuriating encounters have earned federal disability programs a spot on the Government Accountability Office’s “high-risk” list, and Steers’s fight with Social Security shows why. Congress is increasingly concerned.

PTSD and worsening depression left Steers, 54, unable to work. He was medically retired from the Army and received an “individual unemployability” determination from the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA considered him at high risk for suicide, according to his attorney.

With this history, getting Social Security Disability Insurance seems like a no-brainer. But Steers applied in April 2012 and was denied. To appeal, he requested a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) in May 2013. It took almost two years to be denied again in March 2015. After appealing to federal court, his case was sent back to the administrative law judge in December 2016.

It is now April 2018 — six years after his initial application — and Steers is still waiting to find out if he’ll get the insurance. Even an inquiry from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) three years ago hasn’t sped the pace.

“Reducing the wait times for a hearing decision is of utmost importance to the Social Security Administration…” said Mark Hinkle, an agency spokesperson. “For several years in a row, the agency received a record number of hearing requests, due primarily to the aging of the baby boomers as they entered their disability-prone years. We also received an increase in applications during the economic recession and its aftermath. During this time, our resources to address disability claims did not keep pace with the increase in applications and backlogs grew. Primarily for these reasons, wait times for a hearing and the number of pending hearings began to rise.”

The current number of pending hearings is about 986,000 and the average wait for a hearing decision is 600 days. That’s after 15 consecutive months of reducing the number of people waiting for a hearing decision.