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What is the SSA doing about the disability claims backlog now?

If you’ve been looking for information about Social Security disability claims, undoubtedly you’ve heard about the massive claims backlog at the SSA.  In fact, this topic is all to familiar ground.  The backlog is in the news yet again, as there are fears that the increased number of claims coupled with a dwindling surplus of funds are going to make matters worse before they get better. As recently as 2011 the Social Security Administration had reduced the average processing time between an initial denial and a hearing to below 360 days from an all time high of 514 days on average. But once again, the average processing times nationally have climbed back up to 463 days in 2015 and its even worse in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area! 

Average Processing Times Social Security Hearings as of FY 2015

Albany 498
Buffalo 579
Bronx 633
Brooklyn 723
Long Island 538
Jersey City 516
Hartford 480
New York 465
New Haven 491
Newark 567
Queens 591
Rochester 590
White Plains 524
Syracuse 473
South Jersey 602
   

One of the biggest challenges for SSA is reducing the amount of time it takes for Request For Hearing to work through the system. If your claim was denied at the Initial Level then you should have requested a hearing to have the SSA reconsider your right to benefits. The amount of time it takes for an applicant’s appeal to make its way to an actual hearing is skyrocketing, as noted above.  Even worse, if you lose at the hearing level before an administrative law judge and decide to appeal to the Appeals Council it can take several years to wait for a decision.  That’s right, if you are unlucky enough to have your claim denied, you have to get back in line and wait even longer.  It almost seems as though SSA wants to discourage applicants from filing appeals.  Who has a year – or five – to wait for much needed disability payments?

 

The SSA actual has a stated long-term goal of lowering the average initial appeals time (between intial denial and hearing) to 270 days. In the recent past, the SSA invested in new information technology programs at the agency.  With federal funding and stimulus money, SSA is not only implementing new medical record sharing technology but they are also revamping their entire data center.  Here are some highlights of their technology efforts:

  • The SSA continues to attempt to improve its data centers (with very mixed results) to convert all their master files from a legacy system to a modern database management system.
  • A pilot program to accelerate the sharing of medical information needed to make decisions on disability claims was completed last year.  The pilot program allowed the SSA to determine how to use information technology health programs to quickly transmit records for disabled claimants treated at the pilot hospital to local DDS offices.
  • Development of the Nationwide Health Information Network has allowed SSA and hospitals in Richmond, Virginia to begin sharing data online.  According to then SSA commissioner Astrue, this reduces the amount of time it takes the local SSA offices to receive health information from days, weeks or months to mere seconds.

 

However, as great as technology is there are still issues.  The system has experienced periodic outages due to system instability, forcing local SSA offices to revert back to paper processing.  And, until all hospitals and healthcare providers use the IT health network, the long, slow paperwork trail will still be the only option for moving many disability claims forward.  The SSA is crawling forward with its modernization plans, but there is still a long, long way to go.

 

You can read more about the history of the Social Security disability claims backlog in our library and blog posts:

 

To get help with your Social Security Disability claim, contact Markhoff & Mittman today.  We have been helping injured and disabled workers for the last 70 years, and we can help you, too.

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