Social Security Disability Reform ? Don't think so.
Someone posted this at SSA Connect:
"At a recent conference, reps from various branches with the ssa acknowledged the only reason people like us existed was because they had not been doing their jobs - but - that is going to change and the current commissioner is determined to see that through. you know what, for the first time, i believe that is going to happen. if the rollout in region one is successful and hearings get set in 90 days, this business as we know it in a couple of years will hardly exist, if at all. If the 5 month waiting period on past due title II benefits stays as is, then there will be very little in the way of past due benefits for a clmt, thus very little in the way of a fee for us reps. i do think some claimant's will be hurt by a shorter process due to lack of evidence, but this process is going forward and things are going to change no matter how little you may think has been accomplished in the past.
Am I missing something? I failed to see anything in the final rule that would make me believe the system is going to move any faster than it currently does.
A. QDD units - Aren't the formation of these units voluntary on the part of each DDS?
1. How are cases selected to go to QDD units? I would assume that the district and field offices would have the responsibility for this. But who would do it? Claims reps? If so, let me point out that claims reps are hardly qualified to perform this selection. And even if they could, on what basis would they even make the distinction? On what a claimant writes on a 3368? Gather up a hundred of those and they all begin to look practically alike. Even now, presumptive disability cases sometimes turn out to be something other than what they were initially assumed to be, simply because you are proceeding on the basis of claimant-supplied information, which is not always accurate.
2. Even if you start sending cases to QDD units, you (examiners) still have to gather the records. Waiting on records accounts for the biggest time lag at DDS. Examiners would love to move cases faster to get their supervisors off their backs and to have better processing statistics, but you can only process a case but so fast, i.e. as fast as you can get the records gathered.
So how will QDD units change things? They won't. You identify a case to go to a QDD unit, but once it's there it still has to be processed. What changes? Doesn't seem as though anything changes.
B. Federal Reviewing Officials - SSA seems to think that FROs will move things faster. Will they? How? If you get rid of recon and replace it with federal review, what have you changed? Anything? Every claimant who previously would have requested a recon will now simply request a federal review. Here's the clincher. If you don't replace the recon examiners with a sufficient number of FRO guys and sufficient support staff, perhaps the "new recon" will move slower than before. And since FROs will be lawyers who earn quite a bit more than recon examiners, I wouldn't be surprised if SSA doesn't hire enough FROs to make it all work. And...let's consider the fact that recons sometimes get through the system in 45 days anyway. Even if FROs do as well, you haven't saved any appreciable time.
I actually wonder if FROs will not move cases faster due to the fact that ALJs will be required to explain in detail why they agree or disagree with the FRO person's decision. What might be the net fallout from this? Possibly that an FrO will make sure he crosses every T and dots every I to avoid being made to look like incompetent by an ALJ's written explanation as to why he disagrees with an FRO's prior decision. This, in itself, may provide a braking effect on how fast an FRO can push cases---assuming FROs are even adequately staffed to do the job.
The only way federal reviewing officials could significantly move cases faster through the system would be to dramatically increase approvals at the first appeal step. In the final rule, SSA indicates their belief that FROs will make more approvals. But enough to start cutting backlogs in a substantial way? I doubt it.
Again, am I missing something? So far, without more details at least, it seems like the absolute best case scenario for claimants is that processing times may oneday be restored to the point before they went catatonic under Barnhart. But I don't see anything to even suggest that. The process will still be the process. The only real reform might have been to hire more examiners, more claims reps, and more OHA support staff. But that's too obvious.
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