The second part of the series attributes the slow process to federal budget cuts that leaves the case workers over worked and under funded. Since many people have to go on disability before retirement age due to chronic illness, bad health, cancer, accident or just plain bad luck it is wise to familiar yourself with the process. I would recommend a shoe box to stash 3 years of income and a shovel to bury your stash. (Woops!! did I just type that?) I am going to excerpt bits and pieces of the most outrageous parts of the series here. The Oregonian has a shitty archive so I don't trust these articles to be around much longer or even easy to access in the future. Oregonian Link 1, Oregonian Link 2, Oregonian Link 3.
More than 762,000 Americans sit in an unprecedented backlog of disability claims. Delays have hit all-time highs -- the result of shoestring budgets, bureaucratic incompetence and poorly executed reforms.Part 2
The crest of baby boomers has reached prime age for disabilities and now slams Social Security offices. About 2.5 million Americans a year file disability claims, including many with little or no work history seeking Supplemental Security Income. Social Security must examine each one to ensure only the deserving get benefits.
One step of the process alone -- getting an appeals ruling after a claim is denied -- now takes an average of 512 days across the nation. The waiting times, which declined in the 1990s, have nearly doubled in this decade.
As the agency's top official, Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, told The Oregonian, "It's been going seriously in the wrong direction."In Portland, where the local Social Security hearings office posts some of the nation's longest delays, the average appeal drags on 669 days.
Meanwhile, people like Heimerl are left in ruins. Many die waiting.
About 65 percent of people who first apply for Social Security disability are turned down, and most of those who ask to have their cases reconsidered are denied again.
Along the way, 1.1 million claimants give up each year. The majority who fight on -- about 500,000 -- eventually win their claims.
But to do so, they have to request an appeals hearing before one of Social Security's administrative law judges, who have the power to award benefits. This sends applicants into a complicated, often crushing world of lawyers and medical experts.
And it's here that the long waits really begin.
Those who enter the appeals process often bring claims for pain, mental health problems or injuries that aren't easily diagnosed or proved. But those complexities don't explain all the delays -- most files sit in the backlog just waiting to be reviewed.[...]
More than 7 million Americans now collect benefits from Social Security's disability insurance program, drawing an average monthly check of $1,004, according to a recent sampling by the agency.
To qualify for benefits, you must prove your medical problems prevent you from any "substantial gainful activity" (defined as an average income of $940 a month) and must show your disability has or will keep you out of work for 12 months or more.
"People expect that after they have worked all their lives and paid into the system, their disability benefits will be there when they apply," says Linda Ziskin, a Lake Oswego attorney who handles disability appeals in federal court. "Instead they find that they may be expected to go back to a job they held 15 years ago or take a job that they have never done before."
Everyone interviewed for this story said they sought disability payments reluctantly and would prefer to work.[...]
Problems with muscles, joints and bones are among the top diagnoses of people who receive benefits. But the No. 1 reason is mental health problems. More than a quarter of all beneficiaries suffer mental disorders, according to Social Security.
Many people say they didn't have mental health problems -- until they started fighting Social Security. Several interviewed by The Oregonian spoke of feeling so desperate they wanted to die.
Anyone who stands in line for Social Security disability benefits learns certain truths. The system is slow. It's wasteful. And it's often cruel.
Those who have tried to fix the system's immense backlog of claims know why: Congress and the White House have tried to run the agency on the cheap, starving a bureaucracy that must process 2.5 million disability applications a year.
Social Security's disability claims backlog, which nearly doubled in the past decade, now stands at unprecedented levels as millions of baby boomers pour into the agency for benefits.
They face an agency whose staffing levels are below those seen during the Nixon administration 34 years ago, a bureaucracy so behind that its computer system was designed before man set foot on the moon.
[...]Social Security made big strides in the late 1990s to fix the backlog. But it ballooned on Barnhart's watch, as Congress consistently failed to meet her agency's budget requests. In fact, according to federal budget records, Congress appropriated $5 billion less to Social Security during the past 10 years than its commissioners asked for.
More than half the people who phoned Social Security for any reason in 2006 got busy signals, according to one government survey. And last year, another study found, the agency made 400,000 Americans wait at least two hours before serving them at its 1,300 field offices.
Agency officials say they can't afford to adequately police the 11.8 million Americans now receiving benefits through its disability insurance program or Supplemental Security Income. It's a wasted chance to save taxpayers billions that go to people no longer disabled.
Also, according to a Social Security audit, the agency mistakenly overpaid more than $4 billion in disability payments in 2006, causing additional heartaches.
Congress took a stab last year at reducing the backlog by allocating $148 million more to Social Security than the president's proposed 2008 budget. The agency says it's spending the money to hire 189 new judges, including one in Portland, and hopes to have up to 1,200 hearing cases by year's end.
Bobby Rutherford was a casualty of Social Security's other disability program.
The native Oklahoman, homeless and mentally ill, was one of the roughly 1 million people who apply each year for Social Security's Supplemental Security Income. Those benefits, known as SSI, provide 5.4 million aged, blind or otherwise disabled adults an average of $493 a month.
Beneficiaries of that program -- separate from the Social Security Disability Insurance program that American workers pay into paycheck by paycheck -- come from a swelling underclass of citizens too disabled to start or keep a job.
The whole series is quite depressing, yet informative, considering how much we spend in Iraq each month. One fact that most people are unaware of is that you have a mandatory 24 month waiting period after your disability claim is accepted before you are eligible for Medicare. That's two years without medical insurance for someone who is sick enough to be disabled. It's just crazy.
One last note....it is encouraging for people who suffer from fibromyalgia to read the first part of the series. The article describes a woman with fibro getting her claim accepted. This is good news to fibro patients as it acknowledges fibromyalgia as a real illness that is quite exhausting, painful, and hard to diagnose.