Cleveland Hearing Office Backlog One of the Most Painful Nationwide

Thursday, February 25, 2010

filesI recently saw this link to a page on the Social Security Administration website.  It shows how all the disability hearing offices in our country stack up.  The Cleveland ODAR is among the 20 worst for average processing time (567 days) and in second to last place for burden of cases pending (over 10,000).  I know for a fact that our local ALJs and attorneys and staff work hard to keep up.  (Our state’s Bureau of Disability Determination in Columbus has one of the lowest initial approval rates, usually around 40%, and we know this contributes to the volume, and the reversal rate, on appeal.) Like the people at our law firm, those on the bench and their co-workers genuinely care about people with genuine disabilities.

Some clients die waiting for their hearing.  That’s bad enough.  What’s worse, I imagine, is trying to survive the wait.  We take on a range of cases – some stronger, some weaker (usually for want of health insurance to pay for the treatment and help document the severity of the disability).  We do what we can to help our ODAR triage the cases.  For example, we flag “Older Worker” cases.  (I turned 50 recently, so I can identify with those who reach that bend-point called “closely approaching advanced age” on what we call the Medical-Vocational Guidelines or “The Grids.”)  But no matter how deserving our clients are, it doesn’t help anyone if we dilute our message by claiming that every case should be taken out of turn and granted without a hearing, or that every case is a “dire need, financial hardship” case.  Sometimes, since you don’t want to cry wolf, you just cry.

As I’ve said before in talks and articles about Social Security Disability, maybe we should grant benefits to everyone who files an application, and then hold hearings to decide whether to take the benefits away.  Maybe then we as taxpayers would vote to fund the disability adjudication process adequately. I may be unusual, but I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to work.  So in the meantime, I am heartened when I hear about more judges and more hearing offices--both physical and virtual--being devoted to this business of sorting out those who want to work but can’t find work from those who want to work but can’t.

Posted by Mary McKee

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