Long Waits for Social Security Disability Hearing Decisions

Are you currently awaiting a Social Security Disability hearing decision?

Has it been months since you asked for a hearing?  You are not alone.

There are many others out there in the same spot as you.

So why is it taking so long to hear back?

The Process of Requesting a Social Security Disability Hearing

When you are denied for SSDI, you have 60 days to ask for a reconsideration.  Typically, it takes around four months to get a decision on your request for reconsideration.  And, only 12 percent of those people who have asked for a reconsideration actually get approved.

When you are denied a second time, you have 60 days to ask for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).  In 2012 the average wait time for a Social Security Disability hearing decision was 353 days.  Now the average wait time is 596 days or 19 ½ months (this is up from 545 days in September 2017)!

Reasons for the Long Wait

So why is the wait time increasing so much?  According to Mark Hinkle, an SSA 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.”


And regarding the 986,000 hearings pending and the average wait time is 596 days, even after 15 months of reducing the number of people waiting.  Marilyn Zahm, an administrative law judge in Buffalo and president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), had this to say:


“In 2016, the Social Security Administration received over 2.3 million disability claims, 630,000 more cases than in 2002. Unfortunately, the SSA has not added the personnel, technology or efficiencies needed to address this steady surge.  We now face a crushing backlog of cases, adding long wait times and painful uncertainty to a process that should be swift and secure.”


What is Being Done to Decrease Wait Times

Social Security developed a plan in 2015 to help reduce the backlog of unmade hearing decisions.  The plan included hiring 250 more ALJs plus support staff each year in fiscal 2016, 2017, and 2018.  It also increased the use of video hearings.  The goal was to reduce the waiting time from 595 days to 270 days by the end of fiscal 2020.

In 2016, SSA hired 264 judges but only added 132 in 2017 due to hiring freezes throughout the federal government.

How is the Wait Times Affecting People

The increased wait times are further harming those who are unable to work during the time they are waiting for their Social Security Disability hearing decision.  Some, who are facing mountains of accumulating debt due to being unable to work are even having to file for bankruptcy due to having no income.

What You Can Do Today

The timelines are disastrous for everyone! Your best option is to work with a disability attorney early on in your application and appeal process if only to present the best possible case at all stages of your claim.

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Short staffing leads to long waits for Social Security disability hearing decisions

Can You File a Social Security Disability Claim for Pseudoclaudication?

Can You File a Social Security Disability Claim for Pseudoclaudication

Do you suffer from excruciating back pain?  Is it making it difficult for you to work?

You may be wondering if you can file for social security disability if you suffer from Pseudocladication. 

Let’s look at the qualifications of social security disability. 

What Is Pseudoclaudication?

The term pseudoclaudication is used to describe a condition known as lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS), which causes inflammation of the nerves emanating from a person’s spinal cord. This condition occurs when your spinal canal narrows in the lower part of your back. Bone spurs, bulging disks, or a thickening of the ligaments in the back of the spinal canal may all be to blame. The most common symptoms of pseudoclaudication include tingling or cramping in the lower back, the hips, legs, or the buttocks. You may also feel heaviness or weakness in your legs.

The roots of the nerves that control the movement of your legs pass through narrow areas in the spinal canal. If those passages become too narrow, it may put pressure on the roots of those nerves, causing pain. The pain could intensify while standing or walking and can often be relieved by sitting or lying down.

How to Qualify for a Disability with a Spinal Disorder Including Pseudoclaudication

In order to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits related to pseudoclaudication, you first must be diagnosed by a physician with one of the following disorders:

Nerve Root Compression

Nerve Root Compression is usually caused by a herniated disc or a pinched nerve in the back. This condition can result in limited motion in their spine, muscle weakness, or reflex loss; all of which play into the discussion of how the symptoms might prevent you from earning a wage.

Spinal Arachnoiditis

This disorder results from inflammation of the arachnoid – one of the several membranes that protect the nerves of the spinal cord. One of the keys to seeking Social Security Disability when you have this condition is to ensure that you have a confirmed diagnosis by a physician performing; either a tissue biopsy or an MRI scan.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

This condition may be caused by degenerative arthritis. To qualify for SSDI benefits with a diagnosis of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis you usually must have limited motor control, muscle weakness accompanied by pseudoclaudication, or spinal stenosis. This condition must typically be documented by a T scan, an MRI scan, or an x-ray.

Lumbar stenosis may be treated with anti-inflammatory medications. However, some doctors may suggest surgical treatment for these types of conditions if other non-surgical treatments have failed to work for the patient.

What Medical Evidence is Required For Pseudoclaudication?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will request/need your medical records from the doctor that is currently treating you for pseudoclaudication or related conditions. These records should include an imaging test that confirms the diagnosis of spinal stenosis.

The records should reflect that a doctor has done a complete and detailed physical exam; including, testing your reflexes, muscle strength, range of motion, and your ability to walk, bend, squat and rise.

Medical records should also show whether nerve root compression is causing pain, muscle weakness, loss of reflexes, or limited range of motion.

Other Considerations for SSDI Claims for Pseudoclaudication

When filling out an application for disability benefits, you need to include descriptions of how your back pain and impairment affects your ability to work. You also need to describe how it impacts your overall daily life. Do not forget how back considerations may cause you to be experiencing behavioral health conditions, such as depression or anxiety due to chronic pain. Be sure to list all of your symptoms that you are currently experiencing.  For help, here is a step by step discussion about disability claims and appeals.

Clearly, there are many hoops to jump through when back conditions are the basis for a Social Security Disability claim (or appeal). Reading blogs like this can be helpful in gaining a better understanding. We hope it is at least. However, reaching out to a good disability attorney is also something you might want to consider. If you have any of these conditions, pseudoclaudication – etc., send us a message. We will help you figure out how to approach a Social Security Disability claim or appeal.

The Real Cost of Hiring A Social Security Disability Lawyer

The Real Cost of Hiring A Social Security Disability Lawyer

 

Sometimes the idea of hiring a lawyer creates a barrier to action. We all know that when the stuff gets sideways, turning to a lawyer to fix it can be the best bet.

However, we also know that lawyers cost money. There’s no pretense that their services are free.

What most do not realize, though, is that the cost of hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer is defined very precisely by federal law, and it is this way to enable you to be able to afford it.

 

The Cost of Hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer

Here’s the breakdown. The Federal government has limited the fee a Social Security disability lawyer can collect to 25% of past-due awards, with a maximum of $6,000. This fee breakdown means that all reputable Social Security disability lawyers work on contingency. If they do not help you win your appeal, they will not get paid.

In that sense the upfront cost is nothing. There’s no reason for you to delay communicating with one just to get a second look at your claim, and advice on your denial, if you have been denied.  That much, at the very least, is free.

Some Social Security disability attorneys may ask for an upfront fee, usually <$200 to pay for medical records and other costs associated with gathering evidence on your behalf. This fee arrangement is among other reasons, why it is both wise and prudent to consider with whom you want to work. Not every disability lawyer is necessarily of equal quality, accessibility, or cost.

As you consider the next couple of examples, you may want to brush up on the process of a disability claim appeal.

 

 

Cost Example #1: SSDI Appeal @ 30 months

Joan Smith has a Social Security Disability Claim (SSDI). Her claim was initially filed 30 months ago. It has been in an appeal for the last 24 months. After her ALJ hearing her claim was awarded because she hired a firm like Lilac City Law. 🙂 It was determined that her monthly compensation should have been $1000 per month for the last 24 months.

Total Award: $30,000 (30 months x $1000)
25% of $30,000 = $7,500

Since Social Security Lawyers may only collect a maximum of $6000 on the award, the amount directed to the law firm would be $6,000. Moreover, the fee would be paid directly from Social Security. So, Joan would not have to write a check to the firm. She would instead receive a check for $24k in back pay ($30k award minus attorneys fees).

 

Cost Example #2: SSI Appeal @ 18 months

Marvin Jackson has a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Claim. His claim was initially filed 18 months ago. It has been in an appeal for the last 24 months. After his ALJ hearing, the claim was awarded. It was determined that his monthly compensation should have been ~$735 per month for the last 18 months.

(The actual monthly rate would be variable per respective year and match the standards described here. In 2016, Marvin’s monthly rate would have been less than in 2017. However, for the sake of simplicity, we are assuming all months at one rate)

Total Award: $13,320 (18 months x $735)
25% of $13,320 = $3330

Since Social Security Lawyers may only collect a maximum of 25% up to $6000 on the award, the amount directed to the law firm would be $3,330.

The fee would be paid directly from Social Security. So, Marvin would not have to write a check to the firm. He would instead receive a check for $9,990 in back pay ($13,320 award minus attorneys fees).

 

The Cost of NOT Hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer

Sometimes claimants pursue an appeal on their own. Also, sometimes they are successful. However, that is the exception, not the norm. Though, going-it-alone is something we firmly advise against. You can look at the dozens of articles we have written on the various quirks of Social Security claims to get an idea of how easily things can get goofy.

However, a fantastic article that gives a high-level perspective on the claims and appeals process in their totality is this one laying out how you can win an SSI or SSDI claim step-by-step.

 

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5 Questions to Ask your Social Security Disability Attorney

5 Questions to ask your Social Security Disability Attorney

 

The process of obtaining Social Security can be time consuming, stressful, and confusing. 

Whether you’re filing your initial disability claim or working with a Social Security Disability Attorney on an appeal to a denial of your claim, you may still not have much personal knowledge of where you are in the process. 

For this reason, we put together this list of 5 questions you should ask your Social Security Disability Attorney about your claim. 


A Primer on Social Security Disability

Before we cover the five questions you should ask your Social Security Disability Attorney, let’s get a brief overview of what a social security disability insurance is and why it is so important to hire an attorney for it.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a program that works in favor for people who are severely ill or physically impaired to provide them with monthly support in the form of financial compensation.   A Social Security disability attorney helps you in planning out your appeal and represents you in any administrative law hearings related to it.  The amount of work a Social Security attorney may end up doing on your behalf could vary widely depending on the particulars of your claim and/or appeal.  So, as you’re considering who you want to work with, you may also want to consider these five questions to ask your (potential) Social Security disability attorney as well.

 

What Other Benefits Do I Qualify For? 

The primary benefit you’re seeking with Social Security disability is compensation.  Monthly income.  In some cases, you may qualify for additional benefits or even compensation through other benefits programs, in addition to SSDI.

These could include some retirement benefits, long term disability benefits through a private insurer (or your previous employer), VA service-connected disability compensation, and more.  You should also look at state and local benefits that may be available.  This is yet another great reason to work with a local disability attorney.  They will have a better understanding of what might be available locally, as well as a firm grasp on how Social Security disability interacts with other federal and commercial financial benefits.

Ask your social security disability attorney what you qualify for and what benefits may be provided to you along with the social security disability benefits.

 

What Can I Do To Help My Own claim?

The first thing you need to understand is that most applicants are denied on their first attempt. So the first thing to do is not to panic. However, if you and your Social Security disability attorney stick with your claim, it is likely you’ll eventually find success in your claim.  To help your attorney they’ll probably ask you for all your recent medical records and all paperwork that can help you in your case.  These represent objective facts, and are hard to argue against – that’s why your attorney wants to have them available.

However, there are truths about your claim that may not be represented on paper.  You may know things that your attorney doesn’t know about your claim.  An astute attorney will know what kind of information you might still have, that they need.  But it requires two-way communication.  The best way to start that is to ask how you can help in the first place.

 

How Will We Plan to Prepare for a Hearing?

The Social Security hearing is a stressful event for most claimants.  Planning ahead will help everyone involved.  However, do a quick google search and read a few reviews of Social Security attorneys.  The low reviews almost always state something to the effect of, “attorney met with me two hours before hearing,” or, “attorney met me the day before hearing, that’s the only time we talked.  Didn’t know my claim at all!”

This happens often enough that it’s almost the norm… Though, it shouldn’t be.  You can pre-empt this nightmare scenario by asking your Social Security disability attorney, “how will we plan to prepare for a hearing?”  If they can’t lay out a process that makes sense, they may be putting you in front of a judge at some point, unprepared.  Be aware of attorneys without plans.

 

How Do You Prefer We Stay in Contact?

Communication is vital in dealing with a Social Security disability denial and all the events, and coordination an appeal to it requires. That is why you and your Social Security disability attorney should decide the best possible form of contact.

Whether the communication plan is face to face meetings, emails, traditional mail, fax, text message, or smoke signals, you need to lay out a system that enables effectiveness.  And it needs to work for both of you.

 

Do You Have All My Doctors’ Contact Information?

It is very important to give all the healthcare information you have to your Social Security disability attorney. This means all your medical records, related documents plus all your doctors’ contact details. This should also include their contact number, office address and in some cases, home address for emergency situations.

Make a personal copy of all this information too, to keep for your own records, and to provide as a source for future copies needed by another attorney (if need be), other benefits providers, and/or for other reasons not yet realized, such as a will or estate plan.

 

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