Buffalo, NY — Glenn Sklar, Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), addressed initiatives to reduce the hearing backlog for Social Security Disability claims at a recent conference of The National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives (NOSSCR).
Jeffrey Freedman, senior partner at Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law and member of NOSSCR, noted that Buffalo ranks l37th in the country for backlogs, with an average wait time of 574 days, and Rochester (an office recently separated from the former Buffalo region) ranks 59th in the country for backlogs, with an average wait time of 414 days. The shortest wait time is in Middlesboro, KY, with a wait of 256 days; the longest is Columbus, OH at 634 days.
“Mr. Sklar began by pointing out that there’s a correlation between states with high backlogs and high unemployment rates, saying there are 16 states with unemployment of more than 10 percent,” Freedman said. “I’m not certain this gives a good reason for the fact that Buffalo stands 137th out of 144 regions because unemployment in Erie County was reported at 8.3 percent in March 2010. Also, Rochester still has a wait time of 414 days, while unemployment in Monroe County was reported at 7.7.”
Sklar reported on four concerns surrounding the processing of SSD claims. The first was an initiative to enhance the Senior Attorney program, which is expected to decide between 50,000 and 60,000 favorable cases this year, compared to only 36,000 in 2009. Quality assurance monitoring of this program, Sklar said, shows it is working well, with a high level of accuracy in decision-making.
The SSA also plans to hire 226 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs, who preside over ODAR hearings) and commensurate support staff this year, with each new and existing ALJ striving to reach 500 or more dispositions each year.
“Members of NOSSCR have also complained that a number of our clients are not getting the results of the ALJs’ decisions in a timely manner,” Freedman said. “Mr. Sklar said that the SSA’s investigations have shown this is primarily a problem where claims reach the point of being processed manually in hearing offices; however, they are also auditing the vendor that does automated, centralized mailing/printing, so they are on top of this, and, hopefully, it will be resolved quickly.”
There have also been complaints that cases are not being handled on a “first come, first served” basis.
“This point gets a little sticky because there are cases that involve claimants who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses, for example,” Freedman said. “ODAR simply has to address these cases as quickly as possible; however, Mr. Sklar assured the membership of NOSSCR that other than these critical cases, everything is handled according to the date of filing.”
NOSSCR said its members appreciated Sklar’s review of the SSA initiatives and the effort the agency is making to be transparent with regard to the high backlog of cases.