Disability Benefits Backlog Leaves Claimants Waiting Years

Posted at 10:59 PM, Sep 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-28 00:04:29-04

Across the nation 1.1 million Americans who are trying to claim their social security benefits are stuck in a backlog with an average wait of two years just for a hearing. In Tennessee that wait is more than a year long. 

Anita Robinson spent 41 years working as a nurse in middle Tennessee. Now she spends a lot of her time sorting through her manifold of medication. 

"Its just kind of lonely , I'm too young," Robinson said with tears in her eyes. 

Several years ago a doctor visit changed her life, turns out the rash on her foot was much more than it seemed. She was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and other immune disorders as well as lymphocytic colitis.  

December, 11 2015, it was her last day working as a nurse. "To go from an independent person to sitting here to no money, I've gone through all my savings," said Robinson. 

She looked to her social security benefits for help. "I applied two years ago in February and I'm looking at probably another year and half before I even get my hearing.," Robinson said. 

"Today is really the worst it's ever been in terms of the number of people waiting for a disability hearing as well as the length of time the person has to wait," said Steve Perrigo. 

Perrigo is the Vice President at Allsup Incorporated, a social security advocacy firm. "They're losing their savings, filing bankruptcy, they're losing their homes and many are even passing away while their hearing is pending," Perrigo said. 

So why the long waits? 

"The social security administration is underfunded, understaffed, there's not enough judges to make the decisions," Perrigo explained. 

While he said the Social Security Administration is working to gain more staff, it may not be enough. "They're not going to tackle the back log until the year 2022," said Perrigo. 

Leaving folks like Robinson waiting for months, possibly years to come.

"In 16 months I'll either be worse or dead," said Robinson. 

You may be wondering if there's anything you can do. Perrigo said if you're concerned, contact your elected officials and demand they fully fund the Administrative Law Judge Corps, so more judges can join the work force and help make a dent in the backlog.