Claimants Die While Awaiting ALJ Hearings
As SSA's hearing-level processing time hits a new all-time high every month, some claimants are unable to survive until their hearing dates. NOSSCR requested information from SSA about the number of claimants who die while their hearing requests are pending. The agency's response was that 7,897 such claimants died between September 26, 2016 (the last work day of Fiscal Year 2015) and September 1, 2016. This is approximately 23 claimants a day, or nearly one an hour.
According to a recent report by the SSA's Office of the Inspector General, the average claimant who died while awaiting a hearing was 50 years old and had waited 403 days for a hearing. As of March 2016, there were 1,090 claimants whose cases had received a critical case flag for terminal illness who were awaiting hearings; they had waited an average of 189 days. The OIG report found 63 claimants with terminal case flags died while awaiting hearings. The report, entitled "Characteristics of Claimants in the Social Security Administration's Pending Hearings Backlog," is available at https://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-05-16-50207.pdf.
The national average processing time (from request for hearing until a decision is rendered) was 587 days as of the end of September 2016. The average processing time in the prior fiscal year was 480 days, meaning that processing time as risen by more than three months over the course of one year. There are more than 1.1 million claims currently awaiting the ALJ hearings.