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“Our judges are achieving a record high productivity rate… with historically low levels of staff support.”
With state and private disability insurance systems becoming more restricted – or disappearing altogether – there is more and more pressure on the Social Security disability program.
In FY 2011, SSA received nearly 3.3 million disability claims, with a backlog of more than 800,000 Social Security disability cases. In the recent past, some workers who appealed a denial of benefits waited more than a year for a hearing. That is clearly unacceptable for a process that is so vital to so many people. Hard work by the SSA ALJs has substantially decreased this wait time.
If a claimant wins his or her appeal, the average cost of lifetime benefits is approximately $300,000. Should a claimant fail to prevail, the family may be facing financial ruin. With so much at stake, ALJs must not be pressured into cutting corners or making hasty decisions.
ALJs are working diligently to reduce the current backlog. Disability cases, however, which typically involve voluminous medical and vocational evidence, can only be properly resolved when the judge reviews a complete record (which may contain thousands of pages of evidence); holds a full and fair hearing; and reaches a correct decision after applying the law.
SSA ALJs can’t do the job alone. SSA’s disability courts must be staffed and managed properly, and provided with the resources necessary to reduce the backlog.
For most Americans, if they ever have a day in a Federal court, it will before a Judge hearing a Social Security claim. AALJ’s members and the leaders of AALJ believe that every claimant is entitled to due process of law – and are also aware of the responsibility to protect the integrity of the Social Security Trust Fund.
AALJ’s members work to maintain the proper balance in their hearing rooms, just as the AALJ works to balance competing demands within the Social Security Administration, before Congress, and in the court of public opinion.
“If management starts encroaching on our independence, such as placing unrealistic goals on judges, it impairs our ability to conduct a full and fair due process hearing.”