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N4T Investigators: Benefits backlog update - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Benefits backlog update

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Tucson - "I've worked since I was 13. This is devastating to me and to my family," Jennifer says. 

Jennifer has Crohn's disease, chronic anemia, Fibromyalgia and had her colon removed 10 years ago. She doesn't want to be identified due to privacy concerns. Jennifer says she's always in pain and exhausted, and can't return to the job she loved as an x-ray technician. She's worried about losing her house if she doesn't get disability benefits.

Jennifer has waited almost two years for her Social Security disability appeal hearing to even be scheduled. On July 13, we reported on Jennifer's bureaucratic nightmare, and on the average wait of 18 months for disability appeal applicants to have their  hearings. 

Jennifer says after our report last month, "I got a call the very next day. And I now have a court date for November 14. I was like, 'Holy Cow, getting it on the news and making people aware of this problem and this issue'" had an immediate impact.

Joane Hallinan is an attorney who specializes in disability cases. She says the long wait for appeal hearings is due to federal funding cuts that decreased staff and overloaded judges. She says since our report the social security administration somehow found a way to expedite several cases.  "This was very significant," Hallinan told the News 4 Tucson Investigators." After your report last month, we got like 10 hearings scheduled almost immediately."

Hallinan said, "We believe that  getting these hearings scheduled was a direct result of a combined effort, between your report, which triggered Congresswoman Martha McSally writing a very stern letter. But it also caught the attention of many people. I received a call from our chief judge here in Tucson."

Hallinan and her client, Jennifer, credited Rep. McSally (R-AZ) for writing that letter to the Social Security Administration, questioning the long delay.

McSally told us, "Nobody should wait this long for an answer." She said  people who are truly in need of receiving disability checks sometimes get stuck in the federal bureaucracy, and that her office has heard from some of those people. She said, "Since your story, since our letter, we've seen some additional constituents that have come to us asking for help in this same area. We've had some positive outcomes."

The Social Security Administration says reducing the wait time remains one of its top priorities. Jennifer's hearing in November will have a big impact on her future and that of her husband and two sons. "It gives me hope that when this court date happens. I will be awarded my Social Security, and I can pay people back. I can make our lives a little functional, a little bit better."

Rep. McSally says you should contact her office if you've been waiting a long time for an appeal hearing.

Applicants chances of winning their appeal are better when they have an attorney. The lawyers get paid only if the applicant's case is approved.

If you have any story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

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