The SSA's New Methods for Improving the Disability Claim Backlog

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Disability Group reveals the Social Security Administration's latest efforts to deal with the heavy backlog of claims.

This is very good news from a backlog point of view - Michael Astrue, SSA Commissioner

In 2011, the Social Security Administration is taking new and bold steps to use technology to help reduce their case backlog. How could these methods help you win your claim faster? Disability Group wants you to have the information you need to make informed decisions relating to your claim.

The Current Climate
The recession. The economic crisis. The greatest economic slump since the Depression. No matter what you call it, there’s no denying that times are tough for many Americans. With the country’s unemployment rate hovering around 9.1%, more Social Security Disability claims are being filed than ever before. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the number of disability applications has reached more than 750,000 a quarter – an increase of more than 50% from 2006.

The increasing number of applications and hearing requests means that the SSA’s backlog is getting worse, not better. During the last seven years, processing times for disability hearings increased by 200 days, forcing the ill and the vulnerable to wait even longer for the social security disability benefits they desperately need. As of January 2011, over 2 million Americans are waiting on standby for their disability hearings to be scheduled.

Now, the breaking news: complaints directed at the SSA have not fallen upon deaf ears! The SSA is rolling out new and advanced methods for 2011 designed to speed up the application and claims process and to alleviate the frustration of millions of Americans.

New Rules
New rules recently published by the SSA will help fast-track the disability eligibility determinations from the most severely disabled applicants. Now, using the Quick Disability Determination (QDD) and Compassionate Allowance (CAL) processes, disability examiners are able to determine eligibility for 88 specific diseases and conditions that are obviously qualified for benefits, without medical or psychological consultant approval. This saves time all around – examiners take less time to determine eligibility for those 88 conditions, and medical and psychological consultants are able to work on the cases that need their expertise the most.

Video Hearings
The recent introduction of video hearings has the potential to revolutionize the reduction of case backlog. This technology allows Administrative Law Judges to preside over hearings remotely, sometimes from distances of many miles. Applicants who are severely disabled and who cannot travel easily will find this new process infinitely more helpful than the previous alternative. Since video-hearing dates also tend to happen sooner than in-person hearings, the dire need applicant also benefits.

Video hearings are similar in many ways to in-person hearings. The applicant should still dress and speak appropriately. The Administrative Law Judge will be able to zoom in and out, and to observe the applicant from different angles. It is recommended that applicants retain the services of a social security disability attorney, who will continue to help the applicant navigate the course of the video-hearing.

Michael Astrue, the Social Security Commissioner, has estimated that with video-hearing technology, the wait times for hearings may drop to nine months as early as 2013. If this trend continues, it can only mean good news for the millions of disabled Americans ready to receive the benefits they deserve.

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Gilda Mehraban
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