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A look at waiting for an SSA claim appeal

One of the most frustrating elements of filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is that approximately two-thirds of all initial claims are denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Fortunately, there is an appeals process in place. Unfortnately, appeals can be slow.

"Appeals can take a very long time to reach a final conclusion," said Elizabeth Curda, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official who studies patterns and processes at the SSA.

She said SSD appeals can be "especially long" in cases in which the applicant is "appealing at multiple levels of review":

  • Reconsideration of the initial decision
  • A hearing before an administrative law judge
  • A review of their claim by the Appeals Council

Curda said most people wait "more than a year" for a final decision on the SSD application, though she said that in the period immediately following the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, the median wait time rose to 839 days - about 2.3 years.

Unfortunately, those who are waiting for those decisions are by definition people who are prevented from working because of serious, long-lasting illnesses. Many of them need immediate financial assistance, not months or even years from now.

Those wait times often come with terrible consequences: many SSD applicants forced into bankruptcy while waiting and still others who do not survive the wait, and die before their SSD claim has been resolved.

Curda said the SSA will analyze the levels of claims and waits for administrative hearings, to see if both risen in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as they did because of the Great Recession, but it will likely be a couple of years before officials know the results of that research.

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