Changes may speed Social Security Disability decisions

The Social Security Administration is testing two different strategies to make the disability determination process more efficient. If found successful and implemented, the new procedures could reduce the evidence required to make a determination and eliminate a step in the lengthy Social Security disability process.

Two alternatives: "single decision maker" test and prototype

The two alternatives are the single decision maker test and the prototype. Under the single decision maker test, a representative of the SSA makes a disability determination without acquiring the signature of a medical or psychological consultant. This decreases the amount of time needed to make a determination and deliver the agency's decision to the claimant.

The other alternative being tested in ten states, including New York, is called the prototype.

It combines the single decision maker test with the elimination of the first level of the benefits decision appeals process called the reconsideration level. This streamlines both the disability determination and appeals processes, since the single decision maker makes the reconsideration level of the appeals process redundant.

The Social Security Administration will decide whether to roll out either of the new processes nationwide next September. Hopefully, one of the alternatives will prove to be more efficient than the current system, improving the Social Security disability claim application process for both claimants and the agency.

Claims evaluation

The Social Security Administration uses five questions to determine whether an applicant is eligible for Social Security disability benefits.

  • Is the applicant working? If an applicant makes more than an average of $1,010 per month, he or she is not considered disabled.
  • Is the applicant's condition severe? Does it interfere with work-related activities?
  • Is the applicant's condition on the list of disabling conditions? The administration keeps a list of conditions severe enough to qualify applicants for benefits, if the definitions of the listed impairment are met. For conditions not on the list, an applicant needs to provide evidence that it is "equally severe" to a condition on the list.
  • Can the applicant do the work he or she did previously?
  • Can the applicant do any other relevant work based on age, education and work experience?

After determining the answers to these questions, the administration sends the applicant a letter approving or denying the claim for disability benefits. The applicant is able to appeal the denial of benefits.

The new alternatives to the current disability determination process should help make it more efficient for both applicants and the SSA. For assistance preparing for an initial filing or appealing a denial of your claim, contact an attorney experienced with handling Social Security disability claims.