Castor to introduce legislation to expedite disability claims
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07/14/08 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

Tampa area Congresswoman Kathy Castor announced today that she plans to introduce new legislation to expedite the Social Security Administration (SSA) disability claims process.

According to Castor’s office, over the past decade backlogged disability claims in the Social Security Administration’s processing system doubled to about 576,000 cases.

With the hiring of 175 additional judges, there are now approximately 1,100 magistrates scheduled to review disability claims; and the wait for an appeals hearing on a claim averages more than 500 days, compared with 258 in 2000.

Castor says Tampa’s office was supposed to get an additional judge, but that appointment has yet to be made.

Joining Castor was Shelly Rae Burke, who said it had taken her eight years to receive her disability check. Burke said she applied for benefits in 2000, and was denied twice, before hiring an attorney. She said about three years later, she received a hearing date; five months later, she finally received a positive decision.

Being denied benefits twice is not unusual, and may be a reason the backlog continues to grow. According to the New York Times, of the roughly 2½ million disability applicants each year, about two-thirds are initially rejected by state agencies. Many of those applicants then give up, but of the more than 575,000 who go on to file appeals – two-thirds eventually win a reversal.

Castor says her proposed bill will address the large number of denials. She said those in the Tampa bay area waiting for the disability claims to be heard are hard working, and deserve better than a years-long wait. The Tampa Democrat blames the Bush administration’s war in Iraq for diverting resources from the homefront.

Calls to the Social Security Office were not returned by airtime.

Speaking to the NY Times last December, the Commissioner of Social Security Michael J. Astrue said the agency had taken steps to ensure quicker initial approval for those most clearly eligible.

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