By Peter Casciano, Esq.
Recently, The Washington Post published an article titled: “597 days. And still waiting.” This article provides an in-depth look into the largely broken social security disability system. The article’s attention-grabbing lead statistic states that 10,000 people died in the past year while stuck in a backlog of judges’ disability cases. That statistic alone should make politicians and all Americans sit up and pay attention.
The article follows one social security disability claimant through his experience of preparing for and attending the social security hearing for which he waited so long. How long did he wait? According to the article, currently 1.1 million claimants wait for a hearing with one of the 1,600 administrative law judges nationwide.
As an attorney who regularly attends social security disability hearings, I can tell you that the judges have enormous caseloads, making prompt action impossible. Waiting is a way of life in the social security disability world. Our fee petitions sit un-ruled upon for years. Our clients’ back benefit checks take inordinate amounts of time to issue. It takes months for written decisions to come down after the hearing. I am of the opinion that the judges are largely doing the best they can. Due to a shrinking budget, the Social Security Administration is hamstrung by a lack of resources, manpower and time.
Additionally, the article paints a picture of a social security disability attorney jaded by the system. While social security disability law can certainly be discouraging, my experience is that the article unfairly shows only a singular and narrow viewpoint of what it means to be a disability attorney.
My Experience with Social Security Disability Hearings
I believe that most of my colleagues care deeply for their clients. One particular issue I have with the article is its portrayal of the attorney: he is frustrated with his client for not receiving enough treatment for his conditions, later referring to his client as an idiot. Let me be clear: I am faced daily with my clients’ real-world problem of not having the money to get medical treatment, thereby not generating enough medical evidence to win the case. Each time I see this vicious cycle, my heart goes out to my clients, knowing that if they had resources to receive treatment, or if their illness didn’t prevent it, the medical records would be what I need. Blaming the client for this impossible dilemma is unfair.
I find that those participating in the social security disability adjudication process are mainly doing the best they can. Attorneys, judges, vocational experts, physicians, and, most importantly, the claimants are simply attempting to do their best in an underfunded and inflexible system. The article does reveal just how stressful the hearing can be, for the claimants especially. It is a unique and frightening experience to wait years for a 30-minute hearing before a complete stranger who will decide your disability case. The benefit, while small, usually does mean the difference between financial stability and poverty. As I tell each of my claimants before the hearing: this experience is about the judge’s assessment of you. They have already seen the records and they already know your work history. What they don’t already know is who you are and if you are credible. The hearing does help provide the judge that personal contact that could make the difference.
I believe this article sheds an important light on the disability process that all Americans should understand. I agree the system needs to be better staffed and better funded. But we must remember the social security system is also filled with great people who care deeply, who are experts at their jobs, and who want justice to be served.
If you are in need of a social security disability lawyer in Maryland, please contact us today.
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