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Amid rising backlog for SSDI hearings, compassionate allowances list expands

One of the Social Security Administration's stated goals of the last previous years has been to reduce the backlog of Social Security Disability hearings. At its worst, some applicants were forced to wait several years before they could obtain a hearing to appeal a denied application. While the backlog of cases has been reduced somewhat, the waiting period to obtain a hearing is still lengthy, especially in certain areas of the country.

According to the SSA, 903,720 people denied SSDI benefits were awaiting a hearing as of December 2013. In fiscal year 2014, the average wait time for a disability claim appeal hearing was 382 days. From 2008 to 2012 the SSA had hoped to reduce the backlog of claims to less the half a million, with appeal hearings finished within 270 days of filing, according to the SSA FY 2008-13 Agency Strategic Plan.

Cutbacks in funding have played a role. The SSA has lost more than 7,400 employees since 2010, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In addition, there is a limit to the number of cases an Administrative Law Judge is allowed to decide in a year. This is to prevent "rubber stamping" cases without focusing on the applicant's individual circumstances. While spending time on each case is beneficial to the applicant, this can cause longer wait times.

Compassionate allowances allow quicker benefits

One of the ways the SSA attempts to fast-track disability benefits is through its compassionate allowances program. The program is not separate from SSDI or SSI, but it does allow a decision within a matter of days, rather than years. In order to qualify for benefits under CAL, a disabled individual must fall under the SSA's Listing of Impairments, which includes serious and disabling conditions that require minimal medical proof.

In February, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the SSA, announced 25 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, bringing the total number of conditions to 225. Among the new conditions are 12 different forms of cancer, neurological disorders and others.

The SSA decides what conditions fall under the compassionate allowances program after public outreach hearings that include medical and scientific experts, the Social Security and Disability Determination Services and the National Institutes of Health. There are currently 225 conditions that qualify for CAL.

Representation can help

Long wait times after a rejection for SSDI benefits can be stressful. Proving a disability at a hearing requires documentation and good presentation skills. People who are applying for SSDI and qualify under CAL or who must appeal their SSDI rejection should contact an experienced SSDI attorney to discuss their options moving forward.

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