Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SSA Proposals - At What Cost?

Proposed SSA Change Would Cut Benefits for Disabled Individuals
Restricting appeals process would deny many eligible applicants their Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and SSI benefits

SSA is proposing significant changes to the Disability Appeals process. The good news is that the agency will keep an appeal process – the past SSA Commissioner spoke of its abolition. The bad news? Unfortunately, the rest of the proposals do not bode well for appellants or claimants. The agency proposes a slew of restrictions involving submission of evidence and tightening previous procedures that allowed claimants and representatives reasonable access to Administrative Law Judge Hearings and Appeals. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the new proposals is vagueness to the process, allowing the ALJs and Appeals Judicial Branch, now called the Review Board, virtual carte blanche in their decisions and other new, obtuse procedures. While increased ALJ accountability would be a reasonable goal nowadays, given the interminable wait claimants endure for a face to face hearing with an ALJ, these provisions lead in the other direction. The result is taking an existing backlog that requires action, and proposing counter-productive measures that will money. These provisions should not cost more, deny more and take longer. In reality they will likely do just that. Let’s look at what the real costs are and who benefits.

Unrepresented clients are the biggest losers. They now face additional burdens, many far too technical for the layman to comprehend and some challenge the powers of competent advocates. The burden of proof is arguably an unbearable one in these provisions. The law requires the program to be clear and specific for the majority of Americans. These provisions add layers of bureaucracy and intricate legal nuances that don’t portend to do anything of the sort. Administrative Law Judges, (ALJs ) will be able to exclude evidence, with vague or no accountability. ALJs will have the discretion to ignore evidence submitted within 5 days of the hearing. It is simply good practice for representatives or pro se clients to have evidence submitted far earlier than 5 days before a hearing. However medical events occur, providers respond at the last minute – in other words, events beyond control of the claimant will exist. These are the exception, not the norm. Five days is too short even for postal errors. Two weeks or 14 work days should be the minimum in last minute submissions. The majority of ALJs are reasonable. A minority are not, as is the case with any judicial body. This means a percentage of claimants will have medical and other evidence excluded based on the whims of a minority of Judges who adhere to vague guidelines in refusal of evidence and other procedural niceties. This is unacceptable and will increase additional claims as well as add a new layer of potential injustice in the practice. Claimants will die or have their disease progress if they are technically denied their hearings. Homes will be lost and lives ruined because of a 5 day technicality. Some will pick up the pieces and file new claims. In doing so they stand to lose years of back pay and thousands of dollars. They will usually have to wait again for two years of Medicare, when their appeal if heard, would have provided access to Medicare or Medicaid far earlier. If deadlines or other new procedural roadblocks prevail they will be expensive and increase the need for new initial decisions. New decisions, the initial ones prior to appeals, are the most error prone and add to the pipeline for new ALJ pending case, i.e., more expenses. The result. More claims denied. More new claims, not less, longer delays not shorter.

The new changes propose to remove “open” remands by closing the record at the ALJ hearing level. That is, once a case is reviewed by the review board, only the issues at stake in the original hearing can be considered by the ALJ who erred in the first place and received a remand to look at her errors. The fact that the claimant has usually waited 6 months to a year or longer to get a decision on his appeal, means his vocational viability diminishes, and almost always results in a worsening medical status (the agency has long acknowledged that conditions worsen over time). The proposals ignore these facts. Under the new proposals, we go back in time to the original hearing only, no additional current evidence may be considered. This is truly justice with blinders. This makes no medical sense and leads to speculation as to why it would make any judicial sense. Fiscal sense? The clear result will be denying more claims at appeals quicker and in a far more arbitrary manner. Thus the alleged savings. What happens to the denied claimant is the real story – they worsen, they line up at the ER, they apply again and the whole flawed process begins anew.

Claimants who have SSDI vs. SSI disability issues, face an expiration of their insured status and are thus penalized if an ALJ or other appeals level body makes an error. Again, since only the condition at the time of the hearing may be considered. This may result tin many wage earners losing insured coverage and applying for non wage earning or SSI benefits. Again, less jurisprudence, more delays, more denials. The latter is unfortunately along with vagueness in judicial responsibility, the second emerging theme of the provisions. Is this what the American people want, less disability coverage and more tax money for other projects? If so, it should be presented as such. The program is saving over a billion dollars, at what cost? The disability program exists to cover eligible individuals who are disabled, not to generate tax savings. Yet, this is the leitmotif that I s embedded in the proposals. The provisions mark a departure from the SSA mission to protect the disabled. The denied appellants simply won’t rush to file new claims on line. On line applications are simply not viable at present. If the provisions force more new applications by making appeals harder, the applicants will not turn to an online system that is at best difficult for most and at worst underutilized because it simply has never been practical for applicants to use. The older SSDI wage earner will be less likely to fumble with the computer and won’t, (the alleged viability of Internet applications begs for a GAO study in this author’s opinion).

The provisions limit reopening cases. In other words, where clear and compelling error by the agency existed and the claimant was protected to an extent, these new proposals simply shut the door. The more the agency ages, the less experienced examiners and field office personnel, the clear and compelling errors will be overlooked. This is a no brainer in terms of fairness for the disabled. It may save money, but it will result in less allowances. One wishes there was a DNA SSA test for those wrongly convicted of the ability to work despite clear and compelling error to the contrary.

The new proposals mandate an appeal to the Review board within 10 days of decision receipt. This will guarantee bad briefs. There is inherently nothing wrong with dictating the length and even font of briefs and reasonable deadlines are fair. However, dictating the time to compose comprehensive briefs to an unrealistic period, allows the claimant little time to research to statutory issues involved in a very complicated ALJ decision. It encourages “boiler plate” appeals which really benefit no one. It virtually removes the ability of a pro se claimant to full appeal rights and places restrictions on the ardent advocate who toils over a cogent brief. Claimants are allowed 5 days to object to issues in the decision. Most ALJ decisions involve hundreds, if not thousands of pages of medical and procedural records. Five days? Most striking is the requirement at the pro se claimant must analyze this twice removed judicial appeal issue and extract, then submit a statement citing the criteria (So, the claimant studies the CFR, POMS, Hallex et al?) and distills the crucial legal issues that were overlooked. This is stacking the deck against the claimant and placing unrealistic demands on a conscientious representative. Other issues such as rescheduling a hearing and mandating a telephone hearing are either geared to deny or were conceived without knowledge of the issues. AlJs may deny a claim for failure to appear at a post hearing conference – a new concept, another step and a step that will be abused by the minority of ALJs who are biased or simply have too many cases to adjudicate. There is little consistency from one ODAR to another in the procedural dealings at present (look at travel and records submission and oversight of ALJs). How, one must ask, does and ALJ assess credibility in a phone conversation? Having been in a “Telephone Hearing”, I can tell you that it is a poor alternative – why not just pick up the phone and call the claimant five days after the first denial and make a decision? The push is on to plug in rather that plead out one’s case. More latitude is offered the ALJ, more restriction the claimant and representative. These new powers open a Pandora’s Box of potential claimant neglect and abuse. The non adversarial role will spin adversity where the possibility did not exist before, even at one billion plus, the cost is too high.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Social Security's Challenge - at what cost?

Social Security has proposed sweeping changes - comments will be posted here in a week. Stay tunned.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Call From the Senate - Momentum on Both Sides Now ?

Senator Dorgan Wants Investigation of SSA Appeal Delays

As the drums bang, Senator Dorgan has asked the Inspector Generals' office to investigate the SSA Disability Appeal backlogs. The agency, keenly aware of the continuing scrutiny announces new initiatives and a perfect storm continues. The difference is SSA's continued review of novel solutions to deal with the heavy weather. In August 2007, SSA's new Commissioner Astrue restored the attorney advisor program permitting attorney advisers, under managerial oversight, to help reduce the backlogs. The following was released on Senator Dorgan's website last week.

2,800 North Dakotans now caught up in "broken system"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) --- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wants to know
why 2,800 North Dakotans and hundreds of thousands of other Americans
who have submitted disability claims under the Social Security
Administration are being systematically denied, only to have them
approved on appeal - after waiting nearly a year and a half.

"This system is broken," Dorgan said Thursday. "How else can one
explain that the appeal process results in nearly two thirds of the claims that
were previously denied finally being approved? Moreover, the huge
backlog of claims means that many with disabilities are forced to live
in poverty while waiting for a fair resolution of their disability claim."

Dorgan has asked the Inspector General's office to investigate what has
caused these problems and to determine how it affects people.
"This is unfair to a lot of working Americans who have paid premiums in
the form of their social security payroll tax for a program that
includes disability payments if they become disabled," Dorgan said.
"However, it seems that someone has decided they are going to
systematically deny those claims and force those people to wait lengthy
periods of time before an appeal will be heard. We now learn that nearly
two thirds of the claims that have been denied were subsequently
approved on appeal. This suggests to me that a whole lot of folks who
are suffering with disabilities are being mistreated by this system and
I want it fixed. Nationwide, there are more than three quarters of a
million waiting in long backlogs to have their appeals decided.
I don't know whether it is sheer incompetence or a deliberate
decision to delay and deny benefits that people desperately need that
have previously paid through the social security system, but I
intend to find out."

In a letter to the President, Dorgan is also asking for action to
correct the situation. "The bottom line is that elderly Americans
and other poor individuals with disabilities that prevent them earning
a living and paying their bills deserve better," Dorgan wrote. "Social
Security disability benefits keep millions of disabled Americans out of
poverty. But these people who are unable to work and need immediate
assistance to avoid financial collapse do not appear to be a priority
for your Administration."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Social Security Quick Disability Determination Extends Nationwide

SSA Moves Forward With Initiative

We applaud any decrease in waiting times and any cost effective move the new Commissioner undertakes. This press release confirms what many knew was coming. It appears SSA Commissioner Astrue is looking at the initiatives that work and implementing them.

From SSA Press Release
September 5, 2007

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, announced
that Social Security has issued a final regulation to extend the quick
disability determination (QDD) process to all state disability
determination services. Under QDD, a predictive model analyzes specific
elements of data within the electronic claims file to identify claims where there is a high potential that the claimant is disabled and where evidence of the
person’s allegations can be quickly and easily obtained.

“The quick disability determination has been very successful and
efficient so far in New England and I am happy to say it will help
people filing for disability benefits anywhere in the United States.
This is a very important step we are taking at Social Security to
improve our disability programs,” Astrue says. Astrue lauded a reduction in pending disability cases that reach 1,000 days while waiting for an appeal hearing. The commissioner reported there are currently fewer than 600 pending cases, down from more than 63,000 cases in October 2006.

In a news release Social Security reported it currently receives more
than 2.5 million new Social Security disability cases and more than 2.3
million Supplemental Security Income cases each year. The release stated
that in New England, where QDD began on a test basis, cases constituted
slightly less than 3 percent of all new cases. Of those, 97% of the
cases identified have been decided within 21 days and the average
decision time is 11 days. Since the model does not yet incorporate as
many diseases as it can, Astrue has committed to expanding the number of
cases that can be identified while maintaining the same level of
accuracy, the release noted. “The length of time many people wait for a
disability decision is unacceptable,” Astrue said. “I am committed to a
process that is asfair and speedy as possible. While there is no single
magic bullet, with better systems, better business processes and better
ways of fast-tracking targeted cases, we can greatly improve the service
we provide this vulnerable population.”

The final regulation, according to Social Security, is effective as of
September 5, 2007, and will be gradually implemented over the next
several months.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Disabled Process

We’ve asserted that the entire process must be re-examined. The Charlotte Observer reached a similar conclusion in this article, published on Sunday September 2, 2007. The article discusses the decrease in staff and lack of accountability. We believe that only when the former is resolved will the latter be possible. Accountability is a real issue but, in the current climate, Administrative Law Judges can not be held accountable for the lack of resources they work with. SSA must have adequate resources. The priority here is Congress and the inability to pass a realistic budget. Combine that with a process reexamination and the disability process has a chance for recovery.

This process is disabled

No reason for sick, hurt to suffer waiting for benefits
If you are sick or hurt, and can't work, don't expect prompt help obtaining Social Security benefits -- or even a prompt answer about whether you qualify -- if you live in the Charlotte area. Instead, expect to wait and wait and wait.

How bad is it? An Observer investigation found that waits at the local office where federal disability claims are heard rank among the longest nationwide, 125 out of 141 offices. Some citizens have to wait as long as three years.

That's a disgraceful record for a public program that serves as a critical safety net for workers who become injured or mentally ill. Their needs rate a higher priority.

The federal disability benefits process itself is unacceptably cumbersome, and ought to be streamlined. And for a large portion of North Carolina, it's especially flawed.

Why? One thing reporter Fred Kelly found is that administrative law judges who decide appeals of claims in the Charlotte office don't issue nearly enough rulings to keep pace with incoming cases.

Local judges would not comment on their case loads, saying they are prohibited. But a spokesman for the Association of Administrative Law Judges said a significant amount of the Charlotte judges' time had been diverted to other duties, such as hearing Medicare cases and serving as mentor to new judges. In addition, the local office has only 3.7 support staff members per judge, compared to 4.2 per judge nationally.

If those things are true, change is needed. The Charlotte office serves the most populous region in North Carolina. Why would it be short staffed? The Social Security Administration should beef up resources to match population and need -- and follow up to see that speed and efficiency improve significantly as a result.

One obvious problem: There's apparently no oversight of judges' work. Disability judges face no annual performance reviews and can be removed only for misconduct or corruption.

Here's what it means when there are unacceptably long waits for benefits: Many North Carolinians who are sick, injured or mentally ill lose their homes, fall into bankruptcy or go without medicine awaiting disability payments. Some die before their cases are heard.

That shouldn't happen. Social Security should investigate, find out why and fix it. If it doesn't, the region's representatives in Congress should ask for an inquiry.

Friday, August 24, 2007

One Million and Counting

Opinion today by the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

RJE - Good factual article. While the article mentions fraud as a factor, it pales in comparison to under staffing. SSA employees are aging, burning out and retiring. Processing claims requires a skill set that takes years to learn. Even if Congress were to wake up and increase staffing, the results will be slow as staff come into competency. System changes, like the ones Mr. Astrue has been pushing, must be coupled with staff increases. And, accountability for employees at all levels should accompany increases. Morale is low in many offices, from the local SSA Field Offices, to the Disability Determination Services in each state and in the Appeals offices where too few Administrative Law Judges are under pressure for more and faster hearings with little accountability. System changes must include more than staffing, fraud finding and tweaking. All aspects of SSA should be re evaluated and simplified. One step that SSA took several years ago was implementing Process Unification. That kind of bold, systemic change is what the agency needs in our opinion ...

One million people by 2010. That's the estimated backlog of pending cases for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.To handle that increase, due largely in part to the aging of baby boomers, the approval and appeals process must be altered.The Social Security Administration is making an effort to screen and prioritize cases that are or will be 1,000 days old by the end of September.That's a start. But those are just bare minimums. Implementing those things won't be enough to address the growing backlog, currently at 745,000 cases.

Michael Astrue, SSA commissioner, blames understaffing and an increase in claims. While not much can be done to decrease the number of claims as boomers age, an increase in staffing should be a top priority. Congress, which has provided an annual average of $150 million less to SSA than President Bush has requested since 2001, needs to ease the strain on the system.Practicing fiscal responsibility as well as preventing fraudulent claims from slipping through are priorities. Yet ensuring that the country's disabled population is being adequately and promptly assisted is of greater import.

Some people have been able to get assistance through other avenues such as Veterans Affairs benefits while waiting on SSDI benefits, but not everyone has that option. The long waits — the national average is 17 months — are leading to troubling outcomes such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, drug use and even suicide.

Allowing a streamlined process for those applicants who have already gone through an extensive vetting process from the VA or suffer from a certain type of disability may be one way to decrease caseloads. Change is needed immediately. Congress and SSA officials must act or the future of the country's disabled population will grow even bleaker.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rigors of the Poor House

Tonight, having finally addressed the basics of hyperlink, DACR's nascent Blog cites an excellent tenet in SSA adjudication, often ignored or overlooked. This comes from one of our favorite websites involving SSA Disability Representation, David Traver's Connect .

The site features an important but often overlooked tenet, one advocates as well as adjudicators would do well keeping in mind...

The Social Security Act has a moral purpose and should be liberally interpreted in favor of claimants. Conklin v. Celebrezze, 319 F.2d 569 (7th Cir. 1963). ". . . [T]he regulations should be liberally applied in favor of beneficiaries." Dugan v. Sullivan, 957 F.2d 1384, 1389 (7th Cir. 1992) quoting Wyatt v. Barnhart, 349 F.3d 983, 986 (7th Cir. 2003). "That [the Social Security Act] should be liberally construed in favor of those seeking its benefits can not be doubted." Carroll v. Social Sec. Bd., 128 F.2d 876 (7th Cir. 1942) citing Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619, 640-645, 57 S.Ct. 904 (1937), et seq. Where the question is a close one, the doubt should be liberally construed in favor of the social security claimant. All doubts of interpretation are to be resolved in favor of coverage. “The hope behind this statute is to save men and women from the rigors of the poor house as well as from the haunting fear that such a lot awaits them when journey's end is near.” Helvering, at 641.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Social Security Staff cutbacks + Case Backlogs = Change in Service

For those who work daily in the world of SSA, it comes as no surprise that employees as well as advocates have similar goals and frustrations. To wit:

Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter Karen Farkas, in a copyrighted story dated Saturday, August 18, 2007, interviewed a local manager of a Social Security Field Office. The article is entitled Q&A on the future of Social Security - Staff cutbacks, case backlogs affect service. The entire Q and A may be found at the following link:

The article notes that even with a $2 trillion trust fund for its budget, the Social Security Administration is in serious jeopardy, facing increasing backlogs as it processes more claims with fewer employees. In a set of questions and answers, the reporter interviews an SSA Field Office employee, now a manager who notes he has spent his career at the agency. He began as a claims representative in 1975. What follows are some of his comments.

Frustrated as those who wait for hours in an office or get a recording when they call for help with retirement benefits, survivor or disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income, the manger stated; "We are really concerned for the public,...we want them to get good service, the right amount of money and not wait so long. People are dying before disability decisions are made.It has been difficult to get Congress to approve increases because SSA's appropriations are included with other agencies and officials look at the overall budget. The agency asked for $10.4 billion for 2008, and President Bush proposed $9.6 billion ($304 million over the previous fiscal year). No decision has been made.”

When asked by the Plans Dealer Reporter why the backlog in disability claims, the employee responded;

“About 90,000 more people have filed each of the last five years. Budget cuts have led to the lowest field office staffing level since the early 1970s.” And, regarding the future? The manager stated there was a significant concern about the increasing number of baby boomers. Not only those who file cases, but SSA employees. Most of the staff was hired in the 1970s, and "we are facing a retirement wave. It takes three to four years to get proficient on the job."

Even so, this manager and other employees who responded to a recent survey, still have high job satisfaction, because they want to help people. “It's not right in America to have to wait. They should have prompt service and prompt decisions.”

Emphasis added and quotes have been combined for brevity. DACR blog thanks The Plain Dealer for use of this article.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

SSA Proposes changes for Reviewing Officials and roles in Demonstration Projects

Proposed Suspension of New Claims to the Federal Reviewing Official
Review Level, Changes to the Role of the Medical and Vocational Expert
System, and Future Demonstration Projects

The Social Security Administration recently released a notice of proposed rulemaking, proposing to modify the disability administrative adjudication processes to suspend new claims to the Federal reviewing official (FedRO) level, now operating in the Boston region.

Claims already received will continue to be processed by the FedRO and a related component of the disability determination process, the Medical and Vocational Expert System (MVES), commonly known as the Office of Medical and Vocational Expertise (OMVE). The agency also proposes to remove the MVES/OMVE from the disability adjudication process for new claims. “We are making these proposals to ensure that we continually improve our disability adjudication process. Lastly, we are requesting comments on using the MVES/OMVE to develop and manage a national registry of experts."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The NFL looks to SSA Disability

The following is excerpted from an updated article on ESPN Page 2., dated August 8, 2007

The story, entitled, Tuesday Morning Quarterback Returns!, by Gregg Easterbook, involves a long discussion of NFL retirement and disability issues. However, of note is a link to the SSA disability process by one Mike Ditka, (former coach of da bears), to wit:

Ditka said there are 300 former players who unfairly have been denied disability checks. When asked for his source, Ditka "acknowledged he might not have been correct on his estimate and quickly changed the subject," the Chicago Tribune reported. Ditka further declared the NFLPA disability claims process onerous because "If you make people fill out enough forms, if you discourage them enough, make them jump through enough hoops, they're going to say, 'I don't need this.' " Certification of an NFL disability qualifies one for up to $224,000 a year for life -- it's an awful burden to fill out some forms in return for $224,000 a year? Disability claimants should be required to prove their conditions are bone-fide, otherwise those who aren't really disabled would file for the money. Former players protest that the NFLPA uses a law firm to review disability claims, which in turn means they need legal advice. Yet the Social Security Administration uses law firms to review disability claims, and advises claimants to hire a lawyer. In response to older players' requests, the NFLPA just announced that disability eligibility will be based on Social Security Administration rules. That should standardize the process, though not necessarily increase awards. As of June, four percent of the NFL's 8,000 former players were receiving disability payments.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

New State by State review of Hearings Backlogs

Note, while Kansas has its problems, the backlogs are nationwide. This is a new state by state review of the pending Administrative Law Judge Hearings. SSA is in the process of hiring new Administrative Law Judges and the Commissioner has been proactive in this process. Still, we are quite a ways from reducing the problem.

SSA’s budget has not kept pace with the need to replace skilled baby boomers who are retiring. And I am talking about SSA employees who work for the agency as well as the public who end up applying. The bottom line is the agency is understaffed and underfunded. One solution would be more comprehensive “up front” reviews by SSA. That is, a thorough review of the merits of new hearings cases when they arrive in the Hearings Offices, Officially titled Office(s) of Disability Adjudication and Review or ODAR.

This type of review and others, could result in possibly allowing many claims before they get added to the stack of appeals. SSA states they are going to review the back log problem. The article notes that claimants get legal aid or turn to attorneys. SSA also allows non attorney Claimant Representatives to work with and assist claimants.

By JOHN HANNA Associated Press Writer

Social Security Administration -American Association of People with Disabilities

More than 700,000 disabled Americans are still waiting to learn whether they'll receive federal benefits, and Kansas has the worst backlog of unprocessed claims, a national advocacy group said Tuesday.The American Association of People with Disabilities, based in Washington, released what it described as the first state-by-state look at a backlog of claims before the Social Security Administration. The group compiled its report with Allsup Inc., a Belleville, Ill., company that provides services to claimants.

[the results] - nearly 710,000 cases are still pending at the end of last year - show the Social Security Administration is understaffed and can't deal with a growing number of applications for disability insurance benefits.

The report said nearly 15,000 Kansas cases were pending, with about56,000 Kansans receiving benefits. It said that resulted in a backlog rate of 26.7 percent. Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said his and other advocacy groups have heard complaints for years that trying to obtain benefits is frustrating. People who are forced to wait often have medical conditions that grow worse, he said."It can be excruciatingly difficult and a long process," Nichols said."What this report brings clarity to is, potentially, how disproportionately worse it is in Kansas than anywhere else in the nation."Kansas officials believe the delays occur when applicants are turned down for benefits and appeal the decision. The state notes that initial claims are processed in an average of 71 days, nearly two weeks less than the national average.John Garlinger, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration's regional office in Kansas City, Mo., said he would have to review the report more closely to say why Kansas ranked as it did. He said backlogs are a national problem - one the agency is trying to combat."Congress is clearly aware of it. We're clearly aware of it," he said."All the key players are aware that there's a challenge."In Washington, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue told a Senate committee in May that disabled Americans were waiting, on average, more than a year and four months to learn whether they would receive benefits. Those benefits average $979 a month for a disabled worker.He said the agency needed more administrative appeals judges and was working to handle cases more efficiently."For some, the long wait for their day in court leads to homelessness and loss of family and friends," he testified.In Kansas, the state has contracted with Kansas Legal Services, a nonprofit group, to help some applicants for disability benefits; others turn to private attorneys.Nichols said in Kansas, the state needs an aggressive program for helping disabled residents navigate the application process. He said the benefit for taxpayers is that people receiving the federal benefits won't be relying on state-funded programs.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

From SSA News Release. This is an excellent move by the new Commissioner. He appears to be choosing the right initiatives at the outset.

Commissioner Astrue Proposes to Extend Social Security’s
Quick Disability Determination Process to all States
Proposed Rule Would Accelerate Benefits to Those Deemed Clearly Disabled
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that Social Security will
publish a proposed regulation to extend the quick disability determination (QDD) process to all
State disability determination services. The process is now operating in the Boston region,
comprised of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island
and Vermont. Under QDD, a predictive model analyzes specific elements of data within the
electronic claims file to identify claims where there is a high potential that the claimant is
disabled and where evidence of the claimant’s allegations can be quickly and easily obtained.
“At my confirmation hearing, I promised to look closely at the disability changes we were testing
in New England and implement nationally those things that were working well,” Commissioner
Astrue said. “We have seen the success of the QDD model in identifying cases that are most
likely to be allowed. To date, 97 percent of the cases identified have been decided within 21
days and the average decision time is 11 days. We plan to build on the success of QDD by
expanding it to all States because it is both efficient and compassionate for us to do so.”
Social Security currently receives more than 2.5 million new disability cases each year. In the
Boston region, QDD cases constituted slightly less than 3 percent of all new cases because the
model does not yet cull a wide enough variety of diseases. Commissioner Astrue has committed
to expanding the number of cases that can be decided through the model as high as possible
while maintaining accuracy.
“The length of time many people wait for a disability decision is unacceptable,” Astrue said. “I
am committed to a process that is as fair and speedy as possible. While there is no single magic
bullet, with better systems, better business processes and better ways of fast-tracking targeted
cases, we can greatly improve the service we provide this vulnerable population.”
The proposed regulation provides for a 30 day comment period. It is on display at the Federal
Register today and, starting tomorrow, can be read online at For more
information about Social Security’s disability programs, go to

This site is for folks interested in disability advocacy and related issues. The main topic will be the issues facing the Social Security Administration. Links will be utilized and editorial content won't be infrequent.