By CATHY MCKITRICK
Salt Lake Tribune
November 04, 2009
Pending claims are expected to jump 70 percent this year, said Dan Allsup, spokesman for Allsup Inc., which represents people applying for disability payments.
"The number of people held up at the initial level is just exploding," Allsup said, blaming that giant jump on the ailing economy and what he terms the "silver tsunami" of America's graying population.
Mark Lassiter, media officer for the Social Security Administration, confirmed what Allsup described as a ticking time bomb.
"We've seen a tremendous spike in our disability applications," Lassiter said, noting that a year ago, 2.6 million claims were forecast and 3 million were filed.
"This year we're expecting 3.3 million," he said.
"People reach their most disability-prone years before retirement age," Lassiter said. "And those who never think of themselves as completely disabled -- once they lose a job and think they might qualify, they're going to apply."
According to the Social Security Administration's 2008 report, an average 31 percent of people applying were awarded disability at the initial application level between 1998 and 2007.
At level two -- reconsideration -- only 4 percent won approval. And at level three, a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), 13 percent succeeded.
Mickie Douglas, Utah's SSA public affairs specialist, said the agency's Web site, www.socialsecurity.gov contains everything needed to file a claim.
"The process is broken down in two parts," Douglas said. "There is information that tells them exactly what we'll ask."
"It's a much more complicated and lengthy process than filing taxes," Allsup said. "And that's a primary reason that SSA denies two-thirds of applications due to poor preparation of the forms."
Even so, Allsup Inc. also rejects two-thirds of those who seek its assistance but for different reasons, he said.
"We work on a contingency basis," Allsup said, 25 percent, up to $5,300, of the back payments awarded to applicants. "So for obvious reasons, we won't accept a fraudulent claim or one that we know won't be awarded."
About 98 percent of their accepted clients do ultimately gain government approval, Allsup added.
While the Social Security Administration faces a logjam in new applications for disability assistance, the agency has had some success in reducing appeals.
In late September, the federal agency announced its first reduction in years of the huge backlog of hearings at step three of its disability process -- for applicants who were already denied at steps one and two.
Beefed-up staff and improved technology helped decrease hearing numbers nationwide from 760,813 in fiscal 2008 to 722,833 in 2009. The agency reported that average processing time had also dropped from 514 days to 491.
Reach Cathy McKitrick at Cmckitrick(at)sltrib.com.
Source of News:
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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