The Wall Street Journal this week is running a series on the long delays at Social Security. The backlog of applications for disability benefits is so big the Social Security Administration has a special code—DXDI—for appeals dismissed because the applicant died waiting. Since 2005, the agency has made 15,043 DXDI designations.
One person who died waiting was Dexter E. Penny of District Heights, Md., who applied for disability benefits in February 2009 after being diagnosed with colon cancer. His initial application was denied. Then his first appeal was denied on the grounds that he didn’t provide enough medical records.
Mr. Penny, a mason, approached the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau for help a year after his first application. He couldn’t understand why terminal cancer wouldn’t qualify him for benefits, says his sister, Diane Penny.
Kate Lang, his lawyer, called four hospitals seeking additional records. Mr. Penny’s condition worsened. By September 2010, he was told he had stage-four cancer. Mr. Penny, 50 years old, was nearly broke and dying in the hospital and the agency wanted more accurate documentation to determine whether he was able to work, according to his sister…
Applications for disability benefits are rising sharply because of high unemployment, an aging population and a combination of mismanagement and potential fraud within the system. About 3.3 million people sought benefits in 2011, and at the end of September a record 771,318 were waiting to have their cases heard on appeal by administrative law judges, according to the latest government data.
Both U.S. lawmakers and disability groups have complained about the long waits. The Social Security Administration has set up a program to let some applicants jump to the front of the line. It also has expanded the number of diseases and disorders that merit an immediate review, which include acute leukemia and pancreatic cancer, to 113, from 100.
These moves have reduced the number of applicants dying in line each year, by 20% from its 2009 peak. The backlog, however, has continued to rise.