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S.C. ranks 12th for most backlogged Social Security Disability Insurance approval process

South Carolina has the 12th worst Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing–level processing backlog, according to a new exclusive analysis by Allsup, the country’s largest non–attorney SSDI representation company. Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, the District of Columbia, and Alabama round out the top 10.

Nationwide, nearly 700,000 Americans are waiting an average of 14½ months to receive hearings before the judges who determine their eligibility for benefits. This is in addition to the wait they’ve already experienced at earlier points in the application process. However, Allsup found the national statistics and recent encouraging improvements obscure huge state–by–state variations. An individual with a disability who lives in Delaware, the state with the shortest backlog, will wait, on average, fewer than 10 months for a hearing, while the same applicant in South Carolina would wait more than 16 months.

Allsup did confirm the Social Security Administration has made solid progress in reducing the wait for hearings across the country. Twenty–four of 46 states with hearing offices saw a reduction in wait times compared with 2008. The SSA reports the national average processing time for a hearing decision is now 442 days, down from 514 days in September 2008. Hearing wait time in South Carolina is now 489 days, down from 625 days in September 2008.

“The Social Security Administration staff should be commended for the vigor with which they have attacked the massive disability backlog issue,” said Jim Allsup, president and CEO of Allsup. “Unfortunately, some people unfairly face longer waits and increased hardship, and a crush of new recession– driven applications threatens to undo all the progress that has been made.”

From 2004 through 2007, SSDI application levels were stable with state and federal workers processing between 2.1 million and 2.2 million applications each year. Last year, more than 2.7 million people filed SSDI applications, and the SSA projects 3.3 million will file disability claims in 2010. The SSA recently reported that the number of claims pending at the first two levels of review in South Carolina is now more than 23,700.

Lengthy delays for benefits impose real costs on applicants, according to a recent national claimant survey conducted by Allsup. An overwhelming majority of SSDI applicants face grave financial and personal setbacks while stuck in the federal disability backlog, including worsening illness, drained retirement funds or other savings, the loss of existing health insurance, missed mortgage payments, and even foreclosure and bankruptcy.

One of the big problems is that many qualified and unqualified applicants, the majority of whom have no experience with the SSDI system, apply for benefits on their own and are denied. Too many initial claims are denied for simple mistakes that have nothing to do with the applicant’s disability status. In other cases, applicants who don’t currently meet the standards for disability bog down the system, when a simple pre–qualification process would let them know quickly that they are not likely to meet the requirements for benefits.

“Like using a professional to help you prepare your taxes, experienced third–party SSDI representatives professionally prepare and review applications and help properly document applicants’ disabilities,” Allsup said. “SSA’s own data shows that those who have representation are more likely to receive benefits, and nearly 90 percent of applicants have representation by the hearing level. Many of these likely would have been awarded at earlier levels with expert assistance.”

Allsup’s analysis builds off hearing office data being released as part of the Obama Administration’s new transparency initiative. Allsup aggregated that information to produce a state–level report by using weighted averages that take into account the total backlog in days and volume of claims for each state. A full copy of the report is available at Backlog.Allsup. com.

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