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SSA tells how it is focused on reducing backlogs and wait times

Recently, two members of Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law, PLLC, participated in a conference on Social Security Disability and, in addition to learning how to better-serve their clients, were able to discuss policy changes with the Social Security Administration (SSA) and attorneys around the country regarding the backlog of cases.  Nationwide, the backlog of claimants waiting for a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is 1.1 million. In the Buffalo area it takes 720 days to get a hearing with an ALJ; in Rochester it takes 624 days.

“Courtney Quinn and I recently took part in the biannual NOSSCR (National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives) conference to keep up with new developments,” said Christopher J. Grover, attorney.  “The SSA wants to improve the waiting period and eliminate the backlog — and we are beginning to see some change here in Buffalo.”

The Acting Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the SSA spoke at the conference, outlining strategies to reduce the backlog.  First, the agency is using video hearings to redistribute cases from offices that are overloaded to offices with smaller backlogs.

“This is certainly helping. New cases are going to ALJs in other areas of the country, however, there are still some older cases that have already been assigned to a local ALJ, that continue to wait for their hearings to be scheduled,” Grover said.

Additionally, SSA staff are now summarizing the medical records of claimants who have more than 1,000 pages in their medical files to help the judges familiarize themselves with cases without having to go through extensive records.

“NOSSCR is not sure how well this will work.  We attorneys want to be able to see the summaries to ensure our clients are not being short-changed because a staff member has overlooked important information,” he said.

The agency is also looking at enabling its Appeals Council judges to do hearings so that cases taken up to the Appeals Council after the ALJ has made a an unfavorable decision, do not have to be returned to ALJs for hearings.

“It’s difficult to tell what the effects of each of these approaches will be, however, it is clear the SSA is trying, within their boundaries and budget, to reduce the backlog,” Grover said. “Most claimants’ representatives agree that an excessive amount of money is being spent to reduce fraud — which is already a very small amount — and not enough is going to the ALJs to improve processing times.”