Delaying Aid to the Sick and Suffering
Erik Eckholm’s well-reported story on growing delays in Social Security disability cases is yet another sad documentation of our country’s flagging concern for the impoverished sick and suffering:
Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, now waiting as long as three years for a decision. Two-thirds of those who appeal an initial rejection eventually win their cases. But in the meantime, more and more people have lost their homes, declared bankruptcy or even died while awaiting an appeals hearing. . . .
Timely justice in these cases would require more staff to deal with appeals. Instead, continuing budget battles mean that SSA “will probably operate on the basis of continuing resolutions, which will keep agency spending at last year’s level and doom the plan to add judges.”
The parsimonious and inaccurate bureaucracy excels at a few things, though. It generates lots of work for those who represent the claimants. And it displays a Kafkaesque willingness to help once it’s too late:
In the past, said Walter Patterson, a disability lawyer in Charlotte, N.C., clients who received a foreclosure warning were pushed up the waiting list for quicker hearings. But as the hearing offices have become overwhelmed, he said, they now expedite cases only after seeing an actual eviction notice — usually too late to help.
Like the costly ER interventions that could be avoided if only we provided preventive medical care for the poor, the dilatory aid offered by a torpid SSA should provoke a rethink of bureaucratic justice here. Though the agency is under stress, it should no longer hide behind Mathews v. Eldridge to justify a deeply flawed and unfair system.