Social Security Disability Insurance: 1956-2006 Statement by the Social Security Advisory Board

By Daub, Hal; Hardy, Dorcas R. et al. | Social Security Bulletin, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Social Security Disability Insurance: 1956-2006 Statement by the Social Security Advisory Board


Daub, Hal, Hardy, Dorcas R., Kennelly, Barbara B., Podoff, David, Schieber, Sylvester J., Social Security Bulletin


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Social Security program of Disability Insurance. The Social Security Advisory Board believes it is important not only to celebrate the contribution that the program has made and will continue to make to providing essential income support to Americans with disabilities but also to acknowledge the ongoing challenge it poses to our nation's administrative and policymaking capabilities.

The accomplishments of the Disability Insurance program are indeed substantial and have had a profound impact on the well-being of those who find themselves with major work-limiting impairments. Social Security is, of course, best known as a program that provides a foundation of retirement income for older Americans when they withdraw from employment. As significant as this is, the protection that Social Security provides for workers and their families against the uncertain and often devastating impact of disability can be even more important. On every day that Social Security offices are open, more than 6,000 new claims for Disability Insurance are filed throughout the nation. That is over a million and a half applications each year. As of July of this year, monthly benefits were being paid from the Disability Insurance Trust Fund to 8.4 million individuals including 6.7 million disabled workers and 1.7 million of their dependent family members, primarily minor children.

A little more than 10 years ago, the Congress created the Social Security Advisory Board. It gave us the responsibility of reviewing all aspects of America's Social Security programs and making recommendations to the Congress, the President, and the Commissioner of Social Security about how those programs could better serve the needs of the American public. We immediately realized that Disability Insurance and the other disability programs administered by the Social Security Administration posed particularly difficult administrative challenges because of the large and increasing volume of claims, the complexity of the eligibility standards, and the inherent difficulty of determining the severity and vocational and functional consequences of physical and mental impairments. What we have seen is that despite their deeply rooted commitment to excellent public service, the hard-working staff of the agency would not be able to continue meeting these challenges unless there were fundamental changes to improve the programs' operations.

The Commissioner of Social Security has now developed a comprehensive set of reforms of the disability adjudication system with the objective of providing quicker decisionmaking, eliminating unnecessary backlogs, and improving quality management. …

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