Judge’s absence leaves disabled adrift in Hawaii
As a lawyer representing disabled people who have been denied Social Security disability benefits, I am deeply concerned about the current situation in our Honolulu Social Security hearing office.
Most of these hearings are litigated before an administrative law judge. The judge who has capably handled claims for Hawaii for many years has recently had some health problems, and has been off on sick leave since about November.
There have been many stories from the mainland about delays in hearing offices around the country, but until recently Hawaii ranked ninth in the nation for speed of processing -- although that still meant people here waited a year for a hearing. Now the wait is indeterminable because no cases are being scheduled at all.
What should happen in a situation like this is that the Social Security Administration's regional office in San Francisco would make an arrangement to have the hearing docket handled by a visiting judge. For some reason this has not happened, and there have been no Social Security hearings in the state of Hawaii since November.
There has been no response to inquiries to the regional office.
I represent a fraction of the people who are waiting for hearings. A hearing request is filed after two initial denials that have been appealed. That process can take six to 12 months before the request for hearing is made.
The wait for a hearing in Hawaii before the judge went on sick leave was 332 days. I personally have about 50 clients waiting for their cases to be scheduled. These are individuals with severe illnesses that prevent them from working, and they have no income while they await a decision.
The disabled citizens of our state deserve better.
Frank Ury practices law in Honolulu.