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SSA commissioner disputes disability backlog report

In 2008, applicants who have appealed the denial of Social Security Disability benefits could find themselves waiting for well over a year for their appeals to be heard, as the average SSD appeal wait time peaked at 508 days.

Since then, the Social Security Administration has reportedly undertaken a great effort to reduce that wait time, setting a wait time goal of 270 days. Currently, applicants in California and across the country can expect a wait time of approximately 369 days for an SSD appeal to be heard.

Although this appears to be significant progress in the right direction, a recent study by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), an independent research organization, reportedly found that the SSA has not made as much progress as it claims. TRAC officials say that the backlog of appeals has grown in the last year, and a record number of new applicants threatens to overwhelm the system entirely.

Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue is working to discredit the study, stating that it is confusing, misleading and unfair. He admitted that Social Security Disability applications have increased significantly in recent years, due largely to an aging population and high unemployment as a result of the unrelenting economic recession.

However, Astrue argues, that increase in new applications and appeals should not be considered part of the SSD appeals backlog. Currently, some 200,000 applicants have been waiting more than 270 days to have their appeals resolved, while 500,000 people, more than double that number have been waiting less than 270 days. "If it's less than 270 days, it's normal processing," Astrue said. "If it's more, we consider that bad, and we're trying to stop that."

Source: Washington Post, "Progress on disability benefit backlog disputed," Lisa Rein, 19 June 2011

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