Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

The Social Security Administration's Disability Service Improvement Process

Academic journal article Social Security Bulletin

The Social Security Administration's Disability Service Improvement Process

Article excerpt

Reprinted here in its entirety is Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart's statement of June 15, 2006, to the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Committee on Ways and Means. In her statement, Commissioner Barnhart outlines the improved disability determination process and how the changes to the process were decided. The key elements are collectively referred to as the Disability Service Improvement (DSI) and represent the most significant changes in the Social Security Administration's 50-year history of determining disability for workers seeking Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Commissioner Barnhart's statement underscores that while the need for change in the disability determination process was clear, both she and SSA staff listened carefully to all points of view in the decisionmaking process. The end product of this outreach effort and deliberative process is the final rule that was published on March 31, 2006.

The new procedures outlined in the final rule will take advantage of the new electronic disability claims system, or eDib, and will shorten times to make disability decisions and will allow benefits to be paid sooner to people who are clearly disabled. Key elements include a new Medical and Vocational Expert System to improve the quality and availability of such expertise at all levels of adjudication, review of state agency determinations by a Federal Reviewing Official to ensure more accurate and consistent decisionmaking earlier in the process, and a newly created Decision Review Board to identify and correct decisional errors and to identify quality issues at all levels. Two improvements underlying the new process at all levels include better documentation of the record and more effective quality feedback loops for continuous improvement.

Read Commissioner Barnhart's statement for a further explanation of DSI, how the changes were decided, and her plans for implementation.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Levin, and Members of the Subcommittee,

I am always delighted to appear before you, but today I am especially pleased to be here. Today, I am here to report that, after three years of incredible effort and cooperation, our new disability determination process is a reality. For the first time in 50 years, we are making significant changes to the Social Security Administration's (SSA) disability determination process-changes that substantially increase our ability to make accurate disability decisions in a timely way. And that means better service to the American public.

I will outline the elements in the new process in a few moments, but first I want to take this opportunity to talk about how we got to this point. It has been a long journey, and the members of this subcommittee have shared with me the journey toward this achievement. And so have many others within and outside SSA. And I want to thank you and everyone who participated from the bottom of my heart.

When I became Commissioner in 2001, I said that I did not take this job to manage the status quo, and nowhere was the need for change more clear than in the disability process. I'm sure you know that there were people who told us that it would be impossible to make major, comprehensive changes to the disability determination process. But we have, and we have succeeded because groups involved at every step in the disability process came together in a spirit of cooperation and professionalism. We succeeded because of that spirit of cooperation, openness, and constructive dialogue that I have seen in the conversations we've had with people involved at every stage of the process.

As you know, when I announced my new approach, I began a massive outreach effort to obtain and give thoughtful consideration to all comments on the current disability system and on our proposed improvements. I have acted upon my commitment to listen to you, to the interested parties and groups in both the government and private sector, and to the claimants and beneficiaries who rely on us to provide the best possible service. …

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