The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives is an organization whose membership is comprised of both attorneys and non-attorneys who focus their practice on the representation of the long term disabled in Social Security disability claims and appeals. Two times a year, this organization sponsors a 3 day conference where various presenters come and speak to members about various issues that arise in the representation of such cases, including what is happening with both the Social Security Administration with respect to its manner of handling as an agency the administration and adjudication of such claims. These programs include (both vocational and medical, including doctors) who are involved in the adjudication of such claims.
Appearing at this conference on June 2, 2016 included the acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, along with various other officials who came to discuss the present state of affairs with respect to the adjudication of claims. Ms. Colvin explained that the present wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge nationally is averaging 520 days. She explained that the goal of bringing this back down to 270 days does not appear reachable before 2020, and given the present stalling of budget funding and the ability to get new judges and staff on line, this appears to be a questionable goal. While there has been a recent job posting for new ALJ’s, there is no expectation that these judges will be on line until 2017 at the earliest. She indicated that the focus does remain on trying to get the oldest cases resolved first: these cases involve claimants who have been waiting for hearing up to 795 days. It was discussed at the conference, held in Miami, that this hearing office is presently dealing with a 22 month wait. As representatives in New England are aware, the present wait for a Social Security hearing in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire is in the area of 12 to 16 months. Likewise, she discussed that the new requirement that all cases no longer involve decisions signed onto by a single agency adjudicator, but requires instead that each one be reviewed and signed onto by a state agency physician, has not only served to delay matters (as there is an insufficient number of such doctors serving in this capacity, but is costing the significant funding issues as well as they are trying to get an additional 500 to 600 additional doctors on board. The cost to the Social Security Administration by ending the single decision maker pilot is estimated to be $40 Million.
There are a number of initiatives being put in place to try and stem the tide of the hearing backlog that continues to plague the Social Security Administration. Discussion took place as to how they are trying to expand implementation of the prehearing conference procedures that have been set up in a number of pilot areas where ALJ’s are presented with an opportunity to review cases ahead of time with claimants and their representatives as a manner of trying to move cases along. So far, 35 hearing offices are involved in this pilot project, with the hope of expanding the project nationwide sooner rather than later.
Another project underway includes the use of software by the Social Security Administration that is designed to assist the agency in determining which impairments or combinations of impairments are more likely to result in a favorable decision down the road. With this in place, the agency hopes to be able to triage which cases are more likely to result in a favorable decision (and which cases may be more appropriate for an expedited review).
Unfortunately, there appears to be no panacea to the ills the agency has in terms of getting the hearing wait time reduced. The discussion included the fact that while attempts are being made to get additional ALJ’s on board, there have been just as many if not more ALJ’s who have since retired from their positions.
If you or someone close to you is in need of moving your Social Security disability claim or appeal through the complex and cumbersome maze of regulations, we are happy to discuss with you how we may be able to assist. Please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith either online at www.russelljgoldsmith.com or by phone at 1-800-773-8622.