Only 900-Day Wait for Social Security

In May 2007, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue announced plans to reduce the backlog of hearing requests. When he made that announcement there were 63,000 disabled individuals who had been waiting for over 1,000 days to get benefits. A further 138,000 had been waiting for over 900 days. That is over 200,000 individuals who had been living on air, like saprophytic plants, for more than two and a half years!

Since then, Social Security has made “significant progress” with a number of initiatives outlined in the Commissioner’s plan. He claims that aggressive new approaches include increasing efficiency, improving business practices and expanding use of automation. This progress included hiring 133 Administrative Law Judges for 64 locations, opening the National Hearing Center and reducing the number of aged cases.

“Opening the National Hearing Center” means that great numbers of applicants will no longer get to see an administrative law judge. They just get a video conference with a judge in Falls Church, Virginia.

Care to see the progress for yourself? The numbers speak for themselves. Read the semiannual report at:

Everyone should take a look at this and write his, her, or its congressman, congresswoman, or congressother, and senator. This is pitiful. After crowing triumphantly about eliminating the 1,000-day cases last FY and reducing the 900-day cases from 135K to 50K by March, Mr. Astrue, throws in some meaningless graphs and bureaucratic nonsense to give the impression that he is bringing the situation under control. It is pure, unadulterated mendacity by misdirection.

SSA does not say anything about the mean or the median wait times, nor does it say whether those are declining. He does say that applications are up, so myopic concentration on only the oldest of the old cases will provide no improvement with new cases on the increase. Furthermore, it will be at least two more years before SSA cracks the two-year barrier. Is this acceptable? There is no mention of how all these old cases were finalized. There was a June political cartoon that showed a fat Burmese general allowing a civilian to die of starvation, then stating that the problem was solved because the civilian was no longer hungry. Is this the same thing? How many of these 900-day cases were “resolved” by the death of the applicant?

Finally, it will be observed that they claim to have eliminated 63,000 1,000-day cases last year and 80,000 of 138,000 900-day cases this year. If there were 63,000 1,000-day cases and 138,000 900-day cases, and this is a geometric progression, there may be as many as 500,000 800-day cases and Lord knows how many 700-day cases. So far they have been picking low-hanging fruit. It’s going to get a lot tougher to bring the numbers down as they go along.

This does not represent any real progress. Once again, more pressure needs to be brought to bear on this surly, bloated bureaucracy to determine eligibility for badly-needed benefits in a reasonable length of time. Would a one-year time limit be unreasonable? Ask a person who is unable to work due to a serious disability whether a year without income is a problem. If eligibility cannot be determined within a year, benefits should be granted on a temporary basis. Paying benefits to presumably eligible applicants is a lot lighter burden on the government than trying to live like an orchid on a piece of wood is for applicants.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2008 John B. Payne, Attorney

No Comment on "Only 900-Day Wait for Social Security"

  • chronicillnessfrontiers

    It’s about time. I have a chronic illness and almost became homeless while waiting for disability to kick in. I now work with those with chronic illness and see many of them waiting over 2 years for benefits with no income. Some of them have become homeless and some luckily have a second income from a spouse. I am glad to see the SS system making changes to this!!

    I have started a blog for health care reform and chronic illness prevention and management and I cover topics like this, as well as other issues that affect the chronically ill and need reform

    In health and beyond.

  • Naaaaah.

    i say that with all due respect for the author’s desire to bring the many (not the “geometrical” increase suggested) decisions, long-awaited.

    i’m not an apologist for Astrue (i watched some of the confirmation hearings and was unimpressed, nay, disappointed); however, the administration has made some progress. if the oldest cases are reduced at the rate proclaimed, then the remainder will also be reduced at approximately the same rate. within the next ten years, this issue will look like “why didn’t we fix the thing long before then.”

    the real issue here, though is not the long wait times for these applicants. no, the issue here is, “Are they disabled?”

    the administration MUST give, by law, administrative relief in the form of the appeals process. this process has never been adequately addressed any more than the disability determination process: which is at the root of the problem.

    disability benefits have been awarded for more than 40 years. by now, one would think that determining disabilities would be a “no-brainer;” however, it is not and most of that failure of “ease of determination” rests squarely on the shoulders of the disability determination services (DDS) of the individual States. there we find a lot of discontinuity vis-a-vis each other. the federal law is plain and applies to everyone; however, each state-run DDS has its own flexibility in determining whether an applicant is disabled or, as in most cases, not disabled.

    the two-tier DDS process (initial & reconsideration) was, for a season thought to have a curable weakness…curable by instituting something called a “FEDRO” (federal reviewing official). this expensive proposition brought on several hundred attorneys who acted in the capacity of an administrative law judge (ALJ) to whittle down the time that the 2-tier DDS process had. that recent approach lasted about 5 years before it was disconnected and the 2-tier came back into existence. of course, all of those applicants who are locked into the fedro approach are going to have to miss out on a real ALJ, go right to an appeals council (AC) that will, if it remands, send it to what: a FEDRO? and ALJ? Oh, by the way, the AC is also going away and that tier is shortened to sending cases directly back to the applicants with the option of taking their cases directly into federal district court (FDC).

    now, what’s the reversal rate for an ALJ? about 20%. with the new process, cases will fill the dockets of the FDCs that should not be there in the first place because the individuals are not disabled.

    which brings me back to the real issue: are they disabled? In the majority of cases, NO, they’re not. that’s a fact that is incontrovertible. the problem with apologists for the “disabled,” is that the apologists’ energies are misplaced or watered down by attending to and encouraging and offering false hope to those who only sap the system of time and energy that should be more wisely spent on the truly disabled. until that problem is adequately addressed and solved, the process as it is today, will continue to be filled with people who are NOT disabled – people who take the processing time away from the truly, desperately disabled and increase the time it takes to process their claims to completion.

    my advice to apologists, like you, is to be more and highly selective in how you research your arguments, paint with a very fine brush when you attempt to color a government cash give away program, and spend more time with the details (in this case, the details of what constitutes disability). i think that you’ll find using this suggested approach that the “enemy” is not the government but those who would have the government pay them for a perceived condition instead of encouraging them to get a job. another benefit will be that your efforts will be more successful and meet with greater approval from all concerned including those who profess to be disabled but who aren’t and who just haven’t accepted it and moved on with their lives in a more productive way.

  • Dave, you make good points, but I was not addressing the worthiness of the claims. I was only pointing out the ridiculous whitewash SSA was putting on its program to reduce bureaucratic delay. There is no excuse for 500-day appeal delays, let alone 900-day or 1,000-day delays. SSA is patting itself on the back for going from atrocious performance to horrible. That is ridiculous. As for the geometric progression, if there were twice as many 900-day cases as 1,000-day, it would be silly to argue that there would not be more 800-day and 700-day cases than 900-day ones. Geometric or not, I would wager that the numbers get much larger as you deal with the shorter time frames.


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