One of the biggest concerns facing our clients who have a pending Social Security disability appeal is the wait time for a hearing. Because we have offices in Camp Springs Maryland, we represent a number of clients in the Baltimore, Maryland regional court. (In federal government terminology, this court is called the Office of Disability Adjudication Review or “ODAR”). Each of these courts throughout the nation has its own case “docket” or calendar, and hearings are docketed by the court staff.
Before your social security disability appeal can be assigned a hearing date on the court’s docket, the court staff must assemble your “administrative record” for the judge to use in considering your case. This is a complex process in which the court staff must:
- Wait for your claim file to be transferred over from the Social Security Administration
- Have you complete a new set of reports to update information collected by the Social Security Administration when you filed your claim.
- Secure any new medical records that you have asked the court to order for you
- Format and assemble these records into an electronically-indexed set of hearing exhibits that can be used in your hearing. This electronic indexed set of documents is the administrative record.
Putting together these administrative records takes a lot of staff work. Even before the budget cuts known as sequestration began in 2013, the Social Security Administration’s operating budget, which includes the funding for these reviewing courts, was being systematically cut each time Congress, with the President’s consent, passed its annual federal budget. Each successive budget cut has resulted in more ODAR staff reductions. Fewer staff persons to put these administrative records together means longer wait times for cases to be ready to schedule.
The time frame for processing a social security disability appeal in the Baltimore court is now particularly disturbing, because it is significantly worse than what is being seen on a national level. Recently, John Fritze of the Baltimore Sun wrote an article addressing the backlog in Baltimore. This article is titled: “Social Security Disability Backlog in Maryland Among Highest in Nation.” Mr. Fritze noted that the wait time in Baltimore for a social security disability appeal is an average of seventeen months. As Mr. Fritze noted in his article, the wait time in Baltimore is worse than New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and more than 150 other regional courts.
Mr. Fritze correctly pointed out that successively reduced Federal budget allocations for the Social Security Disability program have had a direct impact on wait times for hearings since 2011. Prior to that,the wait time for having a social security disability appeal heard had consistently dropped every year since 2007. The wait time at the Baltimore ODAR had been reduced to a single year by 2011.The systematic budget reductions that began that year,which were compounded by the government shutdown of 2013, drastically reversed this favorable trend.
Until Congress and the President return to allocating appropriate resources to these vital programs, outrageous wait times to process a Social Security disability appeal will only get worse. You can help solve this problem.Contact your Maryland Senators and your local Congressman to object to this injustice perpetrated against one of our most vulnerable populations. Make your voice heard.