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Virginia Congresswoman sends letter to head of Social Security over claim delays: 'Wait times unacceptable'

Social Security
Posted at 4:31 PM, Jul 10, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-7th district) sent a letter Wednesday to the head of the Social Security Administration expressing her concerns about the agency’s “backlogs and delays, as well as challenges her constituents have faced in contacting the agency.”

Her letter comes one day after a CBS 6 investigation highlighting the challenges a Henrico man had getting his benefits from the SSA.

Since our story about Ed Heavener, CBS 6 has received countless emails from people all over the country saying they experienced the same thing.

Just like Heavener, many of them said they had contemplated ending their life over it.

One man said he used up all of his savings and his house is in foreclosure after his disability claim was denied.

“It is completely demoralizing to be treated so dismissively by the people at SSA knowing that for 45 years they have taken money out of every paycheck I’ve earned,” he wrote.

WATCH: He suffered a heart attack at work but was denied Social Security disability. Then CBS 6 stepped in.

He suffered a heart attack at work but was denied Social Security disability. Then CBS 6 stepped in.

Another man said he applied for disability benefits due to his numerous health problems in August of 2022, and he still has not received a penny.

He ended his email by writing “All I hear on TV is about how the government wants to help the homeless, well in my case the government is making me homeless.”

A woman who emailed us said it took her over six years to get her disability benefits.

She said “From Healthcare to Social Security it's all a mess and in need of a major overhaul. Thanks for at least ‘scratching through the surface.’”

And, finally, we heard from a woman who said it took her three years to get her disability benefits.
She said when she went to court over it, the judge apologized to her and said her claim should have been approved immediately.

“That's all well and good,” the woman wrote, “but I had lost everything I had worked hard for by then.”

As we reported, on its website, the SSA talks about wanting to improve its customer service, but one of the problems it faces is the widening gap between staffing levels and the growing number of customers.

The agency said one of its key goals is to lower processing times for disability appeals to 270 days.

BONUS: Read letter Spanbgerger sent head of the Social Security Administration

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Congresswoman Spanberger said she had also received a lot of calls and emails from constituents struggling to get their social security determinations in a timely manner.

So, Spanberger sent a letter to SSA Commissioner Martin O’Malley on Wednesday.

In her letter, which you can read here, she wrote in part:

“As you know, the current national average wait times for an initial disability decision, reconsideration decision, and hearing decision range from 229 to 361 days. These wait times are unacceptable,…Additionally, I am concerned about how these challenges are impacting Virginia’s dedicated SSA employees — public servants who work long hours to ensure their fellow Americans receive the benefits and assistance they need. My staff have the privilege of working with many of these public servants. SSA employees are consistently quick to respond and diligent in resolving issues for my constituents as best they can, despite the significant barriers stacked against them in the form of pre-existing backlogs, growing caseloads, bureaucratic and administrative hurdles, and insufficient staffing levels across the agency.”

Spanberger goes on to ask the Commissioner to send her the current backlog of SSA cases in Virginia, an estimated timeline of when new policies would result in improved outcomes, and what further support SSA needs to solve these problems.

We reached out to several other members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation in Washington to get their reaction to the story.

Congress Pentagon Leaders
Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday, July 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Congressman Rob Wittman (R-1st District) said:

“The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) application process can be incredibly lengthy and frustrating, which is why my team is ready to help constituents experiencing difficulties with federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration. I encourage all Virginia’s First District residents to contact my Glen Allen office at (804) 401-4120, and one our caseworkers will be happy to assist you.”

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said:

“Americans should be able to access the Social Security disability benefits they need. We need to take steps to boost funding for the Social Security Administration and make the process to apply for benefits easier and more transparent. I have a great team that specializes in helping Virginians navigate these issues, and I encourage those who need help with their Social Security benefits to reach out to my office.”

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

Watch Melissa Hipolit's reporting on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com. Have something for Melissa to investigate? Email her.

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