by Kristina Derro
Veteran Disability Lawyer
For those individuals who think that only the VA system is backlogged, recent findings indicate that Social Security’s disability program is almost as bad. This is extremely disheartening, since most individuals who qualify for VA service-connected benefits will also qualify for Social Security disability benefits. And, in fact, most usually receive Social Security disability benefits first and use it to provide themselves with meager support as they wait years for their VA benefits to be adjudicated.
Applications for Social Security’s disability program are up nearly 50 percent over a decade ago. With the U.S. economy losing nearly 7 million jobs in recent years, individuals with disabilities who lose their jobs have been unable to find new ones. As a result, the rush for benefits is adding to a growing backlog of applicants. Most individuals wait two years or more until their cases are resolved.
Also compounding the problem is the fact that the program is being hit by an aging population; obviously disability rates rise as a population ages. This is especially troubling given that new Congressional estimates say that the trust fund which finances Social Security disability will run out of money by 2017, leaving the program unable to pay benefits unless Congress acts.
Right now Congress is targeting overpayments, where people continue to get paid despite getting a job and no longer qualifying for the program. Last year alone, Social Security found that the overpayment amounted to $1.4 billion. In the deficit reduction package enacted this month, Congress boosted Social Security’s budget by about $4 billion over the next decade to invest in programs that identify people who no longer qualify for the disability benefits. It is estimated that the increased enforcement would save nearly $12 billion over the next decade.
Needless to say, the crush of applicants has impacted the legitimate applicants who often have to wait years to receive benefits. About 2/3 of initial applications are rejected, and an appeals process can take two years or more.