Social Security Commissioner Astrue says improving process for disability determinations is his top priority

Posted on Feb 11, 2008

According to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, he is aware of the difficulty of going through the process of Social Security disability because of taking care of the application for his father’s disability several years ago. He said it revealed to him the complicated rules associated with the programs.

Nearly 2.5 million people apply for benefits from Social Security disability each year. One-third of applicants receive approval upon the initial application, which requires an average of three months per decision. However, for those who have their applications denied and make an appeal can have a long wait in front of them. A period of time that Astrue believes is much too long.

There are currently over 750,000 cases awaiting hearings and on average, it takes 499 days to receive a decision. Since the year 2001, the number of pending hearings has doubled. Astrue said that during the last seven years the number of applications for disability benefits has been “extraordinarily high” and he expects the coming years to yield even higher numbers.

Astrue says that improving the process of determination for disabilities his top priority. He presented new initiatives to the Senate Finance Committee last year that he believes will eliminate the backlog and prevent a reoccurrence.

One example is the Quick Disability Determination, which is a computer-based process that allows cases with high approval potential to be screened. Another is Compassionate Allowances, which allows for medical conditions that invariably qualify under the SSA’s listings, usually rare diseases unfamiliar to reviewers, to quickly be identified.

Astrue admits that there is no “magic bullet” that will solve all problems, but believes the initiatives being taken will help make a dramatic reduction in backlog and wait times.

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