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Once denied disability benefits, Tennesseans face long waits to appeal

  January 6, 2019 | By Anita Wadhwani and Mike Reicher, Tennessean

Thousands of people denied federal disability payments die each year while they wait for their chance to appeal the decision.

Congress in 2018 approved $90 million in additional funding for the Social Security Administration to reduce a backlog of people waiting to make their case to a judge that they were wrongly denied disability benefits.

In Tennessee, the average wait time for a hearing is 11 months, according to Social Security data. Those administrative judges then take more than one year — an average of 392 days — to make a decision.

More than 1 million Americans denied disability are currently waiting for a hearing.

Disability benefits include enrollment in Medicaid. A wrongful denial for uninsured applicants can mean the difference between access to ongoing health care — or ruinous medical costs and avoiding medical care altogether.

Advocates say it is critical state Disability Determination Services departments get the initial decision right.

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