In Stockton, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants who need one can wait as long as 15 months for a hearing, while other Californians are seeing wait times that are stretching as far out as 24 months. With such long waiting periods - it has been estimated that as many as 10,000 people died last year while waiting for an SSD hearing - it's crucial that claimants leverage every possible advantage they can. A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified one factor that seems to give some claimants an edge over others: a representative, such as an attorney.
The GAO report found that those who appeared at an SSD claims hearing with an attorney or other representative were three times more likely to receive SSD benefits than claimants who attended without representatives. The report offers no explanation as to why represented claimants were more successful, however it illustrates how crucial having a representative can be in the claims process. It also illustrates how inconsistent the Social Security Administration's (SSA) administrative law judges have been in rendering their decisions.
According to the GAO, even when all other factors seemed to be equal among claimants, SSA judges differed widely on which claims they allowed. In light of its findings, the GAO recommended that the SSA improve its quality assurance and hearings processes. The SSA accepted the findings and agreed to undertake improvements. Yet, the pace at which such a large bureaucracy can evolve is limited, making it unclear how soon the conditions will improve for SSD claimants.
The one thing that is clear from the GAO report is that a claimant is more likely to be successful with the help of an attorney who is experienced in the SSD claims process. They can help ensure that everything from the initial application to a hearing - if needed - proceeds smoothly and in a timely fashion. A seasoned attorney can make the difference between a decision allowing benefits and a denial.
Source: GAO.gov, "SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY: Additional Measures and Evaluation Needed to Enhance Accuracy and Consistency," accessed Jan. 30, 2018