Dying for a Hearing: Do People Really Die While Waiting on a Social Security Hearing?

Unfortunately, the answer to this questions is “yes”. The October edition of Social Security Forum published by NOSSCR (National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives) states Social Security’s wait time for a hearing before a judge is hitting an all-time high with each passing month. NOSSCR has requested specific information from Social Security about the number of claimants that die while waiting for a hearing. The response received from the agency was 7,897 such claimants died between 9/26/15 and 9/1/16. This is practically 23 claimants per day or almost one per hour. (Currently, there is more than 1.1 million claims awaiting a hearing with a Social Security judge.)

Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently published a report outlining the average claimant who died while awaiting a hearing was approximately 50 years old and had waited 403 days for a hearing following the filing of the request. Causes of death included mostly terminal illnesses, suicide, but also accidents. (Keep in mind, by the time someone files a Request for Hearing, this person will have already been through two levels of denial lasting approximately 12-18 months. There’s the initial application and denial, then a reconsideration request and denial, and then the Request for Hearing is filed. So, the total wait time from the time of filing the initial application is more like 950 days or just over 2.5 years.

There is a process for red flagging a case when a claimant has a terminal illness. These cases are labeled “TERI” cases and are supposed to receive expedited processing. But, obviously this doesn’t fix the problem. The OIG report provides that as of March, 2016, there were 1090 claimants whose cases had received this designation and that they had waited an average of 189 days for a hearing. Of these terminal cases, 63 of them had passed away while waiting. This OIG report is entitled “Characteristics of Claimant’s in the Social Security Administration’s Pending Hearings Backlog” and is available for public inspection at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-05-16-50207.pdf.

Why does one have to wait so long to get a hearing in a Social Security disability case? Especially those that have been designated as having a terminal illness? The answer given by most of the judges and staff members is that funding is not adequate to hire the judges or staff attorneys needed to process cases quicker. But, maybe there is a more efficient way for Social Security to handle claims designated as a “TERI” case? Surely, there’s a faster way to decide a case involving a terminal illness without the need to wait for a hearing.

Out of fairness, Social Security does have programs that expedited the processing of claims other than the TERI designation. There is also the Compassionate Allowance Program for certain types of illnesses and the Quick Disability Determination Process where SSA uses a predictive computer modeling program to analyze an electronic folder for certain factors that show high probability for being found disabled. The success to which each of these programs has helped with the backlog of cases is unknown, but we do know people still die while waiting on a Social Security disability hearing.

For information about how TERI cases are defined and processed, see https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0423020045.

For information about the Compassionate Allowance Program with SSA, see https://www.ssa.gov/compassionateallowances/.

For information about SSA’s Quick Disability Determination Process, see https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/qdd.htm.

Or, feel free to contact the disability attorneys with Syfrett, Dykes & Furr. It is extremely important to consult with an experienced attorney before attending the Social Security hearing you have waited on for so long. We can review your records and help you put together the type of information that best proves your claim. Call for a free consultation (850) 795-4979.

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