With the wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing already averaging around 18 months in Georgia, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has delivered more bad news for those who have requested a hearing. Even once a claimant receives a hearing, they cannot count on their result being consistent with others in the same or similar circumstances. Such inconsistencies are yet another blemish on an already-struggling SSD claims system.

According to a GAO report released this month, administrative law judges were wildly inconsistent on which claims they allowed, even when all other factors appeared to be the same. The GAO made two recommendations to improve quality assurance, and the Social Security Administration agreed that improvements were needed. However, it is uncertain how soon the improvements will trickle down to the process itself.

In spite of the inconsistencies from judge to judge, one thing that the GAO found was that claimants who appeared at hearings with a representative, such as an attorney, were 300 percent more likely to be granted SSD benefits than claimants who appeared without a representative. No specific reason was indicated as to why those with representation fared better than those without. Whether this is fair or not, it speaks to the importance of a claimant having someone to speak on their behalf.

Because applying forSSD benefits can be so complicated, it is prudent for claimants to have the assistance of an experienced attorney from the outset. This will help to ensure that the application is submitted in a proper and timely fashion. And in the event of a denial, the assistance of an attorney offers a clear advantage to claimants during the arduous appeals process.

Source: GAO.gov, “SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY: Additional Measures and Evaluation Needed to Enhance Accuracy and Consistency,” Jan. 8, 2018.