The article appeared in The Buffalo News on December 2, 2023.
By Jeffrey Freedman
Locally, Social Security Disability (SSD) claimants typically wait 539 days for their claims to go from the application process through the hearing stage. After hearing the case, an administrative law judge makes a decision regarding benefits. During this period, applicants must live without the income needed to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and the medical care they need.
The Buffalo area wait time is long, but there are even longer waits nationwide. On the West Coast, 666 days for Eugene, Oregon; in the East, 635 days in the Bronx. Recently, David Camp, interim CEO of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), testified for the House Ways and Means Committee, citing four recommendations to shorten processing times.
Currently, for example, the SSA relies on the reports of consultant physicians who give brief medical examinations without background on cases. These less in-depth exams add time to the process, when treating physicians provide more reliable and thorough evidence of claimants’ medical issues.
Next, the reconsideration stage, occurring after denial of the initial claim, is purely a paperwork stage where the majority of denials are affirmed before the claimant goes on to the appeals step. Pilot programs eliminating this stage run in several states (including New York) showed this stage made little or no difference to outcomes of the majority of cases, but prolonged final decisions and simply increased back benefits owed when clients obtained SSD. .
Many claimants become homeless because they can no longer work, yet the SSA requires applicants to have a permanent address. Another small but significant delay is e-signature verification, where claimants who have already been approved to e-sign, are phoned to confirm they signed. .
Camp reported that congressmen from both sides of the aisle recognized the common sense behind NOSSCR’s recommendations.
“It was interesting to see the two parties begin to agree the SSA has policies that need to be corrected,” he said. “They could see modernizing would save money and simplify the system for both the agency and claimants.”
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