Security Revamps Disability Benefits
Mary Dalrymple, Washington Post, July 26, 2005
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disability benefits from Social Security can expect to spend
less time waiting for a decision under changes rolled out
Tuesday on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities
Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart said people who
are clearly disabled could be approved for benefits in as little
as 20 days under the new procedures, which the agency expects to
start putting into action next spring.
The rest of the roughly 2 million people who seek disability
benefits each year can expect to spend less time working through
the process for appealing decisions when benefits are denied.
"Everybody recognizes that there's a need for change and we need
to improve the process," Barnhart said in an interview.
The Social Security disability insurance program pays cash
assistance to people who cannot work for a year or more because
of a disability. To qualify, an individual must have worked long
enough, paid Social Security taxes and met the criteria for
More than 11 million people, including some family members of
disabled workers, receive benefits.
Among the changes, the new procedures will screen applicants for
cases of clear disability that can be quickly approved for
benefits by a special unit.
For other applicants, the changes replace a step that sent cases
back to a state agency for review if the state agency had denied
a claim. Barnhart said that state review rarely overturned a
decision and is considered a "rubber stamp" by many.
Under new procedures, the claim would be sent to federal
reviewing officials, a standardized unit within the federal
Social Security system.
Barnhart said the federal review means many applicants could get
a more meaningful reconsideration of their claims more quickly.
The new process also establishes a unit of medical and
vocational experts available to those evaluating disability
applications at all stages of the process.
When designing the new system, the Social Security
Administration determined that it could take an individual 1,153
days to move through the entire application and appeal process
if the claim had been denied at each step.
Combining the new procedures with an electronic system that
alleviates the need for Social Security officials to mail paper
files around the country, Barnhart said that process should
shrink about 25 percent.
The Social Security Administration plans to publish proposed
regulations for public comment on Wednesday and issue final
regulations by the end of the year. The administration expects
it will take a couple years to implement the new system
throughout the country.
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