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Tucson Social Security Disability Blog

Things Fall Apart

Posted by John Kuhnlein | Feb 11, 2016 | 0 Comments

Social Security published some statistics for 2015.  They call this their "waterfall" chart. Nice choice of words, given that the entire disability program appears ready to go over a cliff.  For 2015, SSA took in 2.7 million applications for disability.  Stop right there to ponder that number. Is it possible that many Americans tried to get disability benefits in 2015? There were roughly 320 million of us in 2015. That amounts to almost 1% of the entire population.  

Some Statistics:

SSA denied 67% of those applying.  Of those denied, about 700,000 filed for the first level of appeal, the request for reconsideration. If you are in a mood for bad news, try this: SSA denied 88% of the claimants who filed requests for reconsideration. The number of people who did the second level of appeal, the request for hearing, is actually higher than the total who made requests for reconsideration. That seems wrong. But, in some states claimants can skip the request for reconsideration and go directly to a hearing. One way or another, 746,300 people asked to see a judge. SSA issued 507,883 decisions in 2015. Of these, SSA approved 45%, denied 37% and dismissed 18%. For those who came up short before a judge,149,437 went on to the Appeals Council. If you are one of them, don't hold your breath: the Appeals Council denied 83% of appeals. The truly determined kept pushing all the way to U.S. District Court where their luck broke even: 45% remanded, 45% denied,with 10% going other, procedural, routes. 

                    Nearly 1% Of All Americans Applied For Disability in 2015

Even Worse:

Now let's get gloomier: if 746,300 people asked to see a judge and the judges issued a total of 507,883 decisions . . . . somebody is falling behind. Way behind.  Keep in mind that what SSA calls a decision includes dismissals. These arise when a person foregoes his or her case or just doesn't show up. The number of decisions on the merits is thus even lower.  Factor in the effect of carrying over all those cases that SSA never got to each year and you can see that the system is running out of steam.  SSA's own estimate is that wait time for hearings is going to be 555 days in 2017.  That's pretty much 1.5 years. Keep in mind, that 1.5 years starts after you request a hearing. 

Wait Time For Hearings Will Be 555 Days In 2017

Mere Anarchy?

I have said it before but it bears repeating: SSA's system of adjudicating disability claims is close to falling apart. The center cannot hold. Given there is no political will to fix this mess (what politician wants to be caught dead helping the poor or the disabled?), we might see the entire thing crater. I know this sounds apocalyptic. But is there a better prediction? What do you think? Is there some Manhattan Project or some Deus Ex Machina solution out there?

More Need Than Ever To Hire A Lawyer:

 If the statistics listed above show anything, it is this: you are going to need a lawyer to get disability. SSA is stacking the deck against claimants more and more each year. This means the time when you could go it alone and hope for the best is gone. If you have applied for disability, or are just thinking about doing so, call right away. 

SSA Waterfall Chart


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

      William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

About the Author

John Kuhnlein

Since 1992, I have been helping the people of Southern Arizona get the benefits they are due. Before devoting all my efforts to assisting people with Social Security disability claims, I also handled such complex lawsuits as medical malpractice and products liability. I brought to my Social Security cases all the skills and attention to detail that I developed in the courtroom. I approach each Social Security disability case as if it were a million-dollar lawsuit. For the people trying to get Social Security benefits, their claim is every bit as important. Because I have personally handled so many Social Security cases, I have refined the skills I need to win your case for you. I have helped people win cases for every kind of ailment from arthritis to valley fever. At present, I am focused on helping those persons with neurological and orthopedic disorders. Because claims for people over age fifty bring additional complications, I particularly seek out those cases to work on. I regularly write about back and spine conditions on my blog. I actively seek out the latest information about orthopedic and neurological disorders to ensure I can represent my clients as effectively as possible. Because of my current focus, I regret that I am not able to take any cases for mental disorders. If you are over age fifty and suffer from any orthopedic or neurological disorder, please contact me at once.


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John Kuhnlein has been assisting people with Social Security disability claims for the past 25+ years.

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