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Terri Cromley, Disability Benefit Backlog Takes Toll

Disability benefit backlog takes toll

State’s average wait time for insurance hearing: 470 days

By Thomas R. Wolfrum

Bradenton Herold, April 11, 2010


Thomas Presha thinks he could afford chiropractic care for his searing back pain if a judge would hear his plea for Social Security Disability Insurance.

The 55-year-old former construction worker said he has been unemployed for almost three years, barely able to get out of bed, much less hold down a job.

But because of a backlog of cases before the Social Security Administration’s administrative law judges, Presha has been waiting more than two years for his case to be heard.

He’s still waiting.

And losing hope.

“I’m in excruciating pain all the time,” said Presha, who lives in Sarasota. “I actually wake up every morning crying from what kind of pain I’m in. I spend the day whining and crying in bed.”

Presha’s case is extreme, even for Florida, which ranks 16th worst in Social Security Disability Insurance hearing backlogs in an analysis released this past week by Allsup, a company that helps applicants get benefits. The average wait time in Florida is 470 days, or almost 16 months, according to the study. That is down from an average wait time of 557 days in September 2008.

States in the Upper Midwest fared the worst in the Allsup study. Ohio is saddled with the largest backlog of cases with an average wait of 590 days, followed by Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Delaware had the shortest backlog. Applicants wait an average of 299 days for a hearing there.

“There’s a huge disparity between the states,” said Dan Allsup, director of communications at Allsup. “Where I live should not determine how long I have to wait to get the benefits I paid for.”

The Social Security Disability Insurance program offers financial support to people who can no longer work because of a disability expected to last at least a year or result in death. Recipients must be younger than 65, making them ineligible for regular Social Security retirement checks.

The hearing level is the third step in an applicant’s process of receiving disability benefits. By the time they get in front of a judge, applicants have already had an initial submission and preliminary appeal denied.

Presha said his submissions have been denied even though SSA’s own doctors concede that he can no longer do construction work.

He thinks he injured his back in 2007 while working at Building Restoration, a Sarasota construction firm. But he continued working with the pain and couldn’t prove the injury occurred on the job.

After a layoff, Presha tried to return to work, but the pain was too intense. Doctors later found two herniated discs and diagnosed Presha with spinal stenosis.

Presha and his wife of five years were surviving on her income until she got laid off recently from her job with United Cerebral Palsy. Now their only income is her unemployment benefits. It’s barely enough to pay the lot rent on the trailer they own.

“It’s been going on three years now,” Presha said of his quest for benefits. “I’m not confident in the system at all.”