The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes monthly performance statistics for each regional ODAR (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review). At HensonFuerst, we monitor those statistics so that we can better assist our clients. Over the past year, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend: Approval rates in the majority of ODARs across the country have been going down, which means fewer people are qualifying to receive payments.
This is bad news for claimants who are waiting for a hearing. But it is also not good for anyone currently receiving disability benefits because all cases are periodically audited, which means that disability claims get re-evaluated and are subject to repeated scrutiny. The SSA hasn’t given specific reasons for this decline in approval rates. Based on our experience and knowledge of the Social Security Disability system, we believe that it could be due to the recent economic downturn—just when the Social Security program is at its financial worst, more people are applying for disability benefits.
To give you an idea of how widely the approval rates vary from office to office, here are some current local statistics:
• For the ODAR in Raleigh, NC, the average wait time from the date a claimant demands a hearing is 11 months, or 335 days. Average approval rate is 46%. The office has 8,430 cases currently open and pending, and judges are making decisions in about 2.5 cases per day.
• For the ODAR in Fayetteville, NC, the average wait time is 12.5 months, or 375 days. Average approval rate is 42%. The office has 5,589 cases open and pending, and judges are making decisions in about 2.73 cases per day.
• For the ODAR in Greenville, SC, the average wait time is 10 months, or 292 days. Average approval rate is 66%. The office has 5,063 cases open and pending, and judges are making decisions in about 2.61 cases per day.
• For the ODAR in Columbia, SC, the average wait time is 14 months, or 398 days. Average approval rate 53%. The office has 5,423 cases open and pending, and judges are making decisions in about 2.48 cases per day.
So, you can see that where your case is heard can make a significant difference for the likelihood of approval. To make things more complicated, each judge has his or her own approval rate, too, which can be an important factor in your odds for approval. But even more important than these statistical factors is the quality of your medical documentation. This includes proper and adequate medical documentation of symptoms and medical conditions; letters from doctors outlining physical limitations and restrictions; and letters and or testimony from friends, family, and old employers, about how your disability has affected your life.
While we don’t have control over what office or which judge hears a case, we do have control over what ends up in your file. That’s why we encourage all our clients to get medical treatment whenever necessary, and to keep your case manager informed about significant changes in your medical condition. That’s the best way to make sure that proper proof of your medical condition is ready when it’s time for your SSD hearing.
If you have questions about applying Social Security Disability, or if you would like HensonFuerst to represent your interests, please visit our website at www.lawmed.com/SSD/.