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Re: “System Disabled

SS Disability Data for Pittsurgh area: DDS processing times measure the average time from DDS receipt of the case to DDS clearance - it does not account for any time a case is in the FO or a quality review component. These measures include disability claims regardless if they are paper or electronic cases. Fiscal Year Through Week Ending Jun 29, 2007 (Week 39) National average processing time - 84.8 days Pennsylvania average processing time - 88.7 days Hearings pending per ALJ month ending 8/31/07 National pending per ALJ - 708.19 Pittsburgh pending per ALJ - 680.43 Hearing Office Average Processing Time Month Ending 8/31/07 Pittsburgh ranks 90 out of 142 hearing offices nationwide for worst hearing processing times with an average waiting time of 533 days to get a SSDI/SSI hearing in front of an ALJ Source: Social Security Admistration Reports 9/07

Posted by SSDC on 09/24/2007 at 7:56 PM

Re: “System Disabled

Conditions Worsen For Those Seeking Disability Benefits Social Security Disability (SSDI), is an insurance plan administered by the Federal Government that is paid for by FICA Tax deductions out of American's hard earned paychecks. There is a huge shameful scandal involving this program, that most Americans know nothing about unless they need to apply for this benefit themselves. It’s supposed to be a safety net for millions of disabled Americans, but because of current program problems, the process of getting SSDI benefits can cause devastating, irreversible harm to your health and financial wellbeing, and it affects every aspect of a claimant’s life. It often exacerbates/creates new health issues, and many lose all their financial resources, their homes, even their lives while waiting for help. If you don’t suffer from depression before applying for benefits, chances are you will, in fact many contemplate or attempt suicide. It seems that this program is currently structured to be very complicated, confusing, and with as many obstacles as possible, to discourage claimants, hoping they “give up or die” trying to get their benefits. I was very unaware of these problems until my first experience with the SSA. After almost dying, and continuing to battle several incurable diseases, I lost all my life savings/pension money, and will never be able to recover from the financial, physical and emotional devastation that was caused while filing for my own SSDI benefits. My “American Dream” quickly turned into the “American Nightmare” through no fault of my own, and my horror story can be found on my website “A Bump On The Head”: Nationally as of August 2007, over 65% of disability cases were denied (58% NY State) at the initial stage of the disability claims process and it took over 84 days (102 days NY State) for claimants to receive the initial decision on their claim. There are about 540,000 pending initial claims, 125,000 pending reconsiderations, and 752,103 pending hearings (1,417,103 total pending cases) and out of that number, 154,841 are veterans. There even are cases of Veterans, rated 100% disabled by the VA, who get denied their SSDI benefits and end up living in poverty on the streets. Horrible treatment for those who protect and serve our country. In 2006 there were 2,134,088 new applications for SSDI benefits and as of August 2007, there have been 1,499,053 new claims. If a claimant appeals the initial decision, the national average time to process a hearings case is now 523 days (735 days for Buffalo NY OHA that processes majority of Rochester cases), and that processing time continues to increase. Out of 145 hearing offices nationwide, Buffalo ranks at #136 for the worst processing times for hearing cases. Nearly 300,000 hearings have already been pending over a year and there are only 1,096 Administrative law judges (ALJ’s) nationwide to hear all those cases. There is no data on the number of people who originally filed a Social Security Disability claim that have given up or died. Other detrimental regulations come as a shock to this very fragile population. Under Federal law, there’s a five month benefit waiting period, and five months of back money withheld, which claimants will never see again. Studies have shown that most Americans have about two weeks of financial resources to live on. SSDI recipients must also wait another 24 months, in addition to the 5 month waiting period from disability date of eligibility (the date that SS determines that you were officially disabled) in order to qualify for Medicare benefits. Yet they expect a population who can no longer work to go without five months of pay and wait several months to several years to have their disability claims processed! According to Health Affairs – Health Affairs - MarketWatch: Illness And Injury As Contributors To Bankruptcy - Feb 2005: Disability causes nearly 50% of all mortgage foreclosures, and over half of all personal U.S. bankruptcies, affecting over 2 million people annually. This was attributable to illness or medical bills, and 15% of all homeowners who had taken out a second or third mortgage, cited medical expenses as a reason. In April 2006, Parade Magazine in an article called “Is The American Dream Still Possible?” - published the results of their survey of more than 2200 Americans who earned between $30,000 and $99,000 per year, most stating that they were in reasonably good health. 66% say they tend to live from paycheck to paycheck and nearly 83% say that there is not much money left to save after they have paid their bills. This article also states that “National statistics show the increasing pressures on middle-income Americans: The savings rate for Americans is the lowest it has been in 73 years and credit-card debt is at an all-time high, averaging $9,312 per household.” A National Investment Watch Survey done by AG Edwards in 2004 found that 72% of Americans don't have enough savings to meet short-term emergencies. In a March 2007 survey of NCSSMA (Field Office and Teleservice Center management) members in which over 2,000 responded, over 80.0% stated that their office waiting times for the public had increased in the past two years. About a third said that waiting times were significantly longer. In addition, about 80.0% of the respondents stated they did not have enough staff to keep their workloads current. A January 2007 Harris poll designed to evaluate the services provided by 13 federal agencies, the public rated SSA at the bottom of the list and it was the only agency that received an overall negative evaluation. At one time in the recent past SSA was viewed by the public as one of the best federal agencies in delivering service. Now after substantial staffing cuts, SSA is at the bottom of the public acceptance list. Here are some other important staggering disability statistics Nearly 1 in 2 (133 million) Americans live with a chronic condition. 20.6% of the population, about 54 million people, have some level of disability 9.9% (26 million people) had a severe disability Note: The sources for these statistics and even more information is listed here: Almost 3 in 10 workers entering the work force today will become disabled before retiring. SSA Fact Sheet 1/31/07 More than 80% of working Americans don't have disability income insurance or aren't covered adequately. National Underwriter Magazine - May 2001 About 1 in 7 people can expect to be disabled for five years or more before retirement. Commissioners Disability Table 1998 - Health Insurance Association of America - NY Times - Feb 2000 There were 24,100,000 (of that number 8,200,000 were off the job) disabling unintentional injuries in 2005 National Safety Council Injury Facts - 2007 A person suffers a disabling work injury every 9 seconds National Safety Council Injury Facts – 2004 According to an insurance survey, conducted by the International Communications Research of Media, PA from Jan 10-14th 2007, on behalf of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, researchers found 56% of U.S. workers would not be able pay their bills or meet expenses if they become disabled and unable to work. 71% of the 44% who had insurance, stated it was employer provided, so if they lose or change jobs they would no longer have disability coverage. The Social Security Administration says 20% of the U.S. population will actually become disabled for a year or more before age 65. There seems to be a relationship, between SSDI claims processing issues/backlogs, and the need for claimants to also apply for state funded Medicaid/Social Service programs. Many are forced to file for Medicaid, food stamps and cash assistance, another horrendous process. Those who file for these programs while waiting to get SSDI benefits, in many states, have to pay back the state out of their meager benefit checks once approved. As a result they’re often kept below the poverty level, almost never able to better themselves since they can’t work, and now are forced to rely on both state and federally funded programs instead of just one of them. This practice should be eliminated. SSDI is not welfare, a hand out, reward, golden parachute or jackpot by any means, and most people would be hard pressed to survive on it. Yet, often claimants are treated like criminals – viewed as frauds trying to scam the system, and that the SSA must “weed out” them out by making it as hard as possible to get benefits. The percentage of claims that in fact, aren’t legitimate is very miniscule. In 2007, the average monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefit was only $979. Nobody in their right mind would want to go through this process, and end up living in poverty on top of their illnesses, if they could in fact work. In our country you’re required to have auto insurance in order to drive a car, you pay for health insurance, life insurance etc. If you filed a claim against any of these policies, after making your payments, and the company tried to deny you coverage when you had a legitimate claim, you would be doing whatever it took, even suing, to make them honor your policy. Yet the government is denying Americans their right to legitimate SSDI benefits everyday, and you should be outraged! I want to see new legislation created to reform this program and I suggest that together the SSA and Congress immediately set up a task force made up of claimants who have actually gone through the SSDI system, that has major input and influence on the decision making process before any final decisions/changes/laws are instituted by the SSA Commissioner or members of Congress. This is absolutely necessary, since nobody knows better about the flaws in the system and possible solutions to those problems, then those who are forced to go through it and deal with the consequences when it does not function properly. As if things are not already bad enough now, they are about to get even worse, as the SSA is facing budget problems and employee layoffs, just as the growing numbers of disabled/aging population needs their services more than ever. SSA Field Offices have lost over 2,500 positions since September 2005 and nearly 1,400 positions since September 2006. In 2007 SSA Field Offices are averaging about 850,000 visitors a week. Constituents visiting these local Field Offices continue to experience lengthy waiting times and the inability to obtain assistance via the telephone. Congress also needs to legislate that Social Security funds cannot be used for anything other than to pay out benefits and administer the program. It is urgent that you contact your Congressional representatives on this issue. Remember that disease and tragedy do not discriminate on the basis of age, sex or race. If you think this could not happen to you – you could be DEAD wrong! In closing I alert you to the case of Dane Edwards from the Rochester area, who applied for Social Security Disability benefits in October 2006, because of terminal lung and brain cancer. When he’d call to check on the status of his claim he was told that he must wait like everyone else, and that he should stop calling to inquire about the status. He obviously didn’t have the luxury of time. Dane will no longer be calling and he never received his benefits. The last precious, few months of his life were spent in anger and frustration, fighting a system, which in the end failed him miserably. He was 53 years old when he died on February 13, 2007 - his SSDI disability claim still waiting for approval. Unfortunately I must report that stories like his are becoming more and more common. Social Security Disability Coalition - Offering FREE information and support with a focus on reform of the Social Security Disability System: Sign the Social Security Disability Reform Petition - Read the horror stories from all over the nation at:

Posted by SSDC on 09/24/2007 at 7:08 PM

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