Oh, yes - that really is the system, and it is deliberately set up that way. I know how it works since my ex- is a training supervisor for the Georgia Disability Adjudication Service. Not to mention my own experiences with disability...
Unless you are just about dead, missing several limbs, or otherwise just plain unquestionably so messed up no rational person would think that you could ever work again, you are AUTOMATICALLY denied the first time. Eighty percent of the people who are ultimately approved are denied the second time. Most people get disability either on thier third try or after taking it to court. The system is set up deliberately that way to actively discourage people. It's because no political figure wants to ever, ever, be caught being responsible if the press does an expose' on able-bodied people getting disability and facing the hue and cry of the social conservatives. So they go overboard, no many how many truly disabled people are screwed over, because the disabled aren't a big enough percentage of the vote to count in politician's calculations.
When I tell folks in any part of the system I got my disability immediately on the first try they all say, "Wow! You must REALLY have been bad off!" Well, my heart WAS down to functioning at only 15%. That will qualify you for TPD (totally permanently disabled) because not one person in a thousand comes back from that level to ever work again. Yes, I AM bragging...but I know I could be back unable to work tomorrow, so I don't make any long-range plans or expectations. "One day at a time."