Some things are irreducible. When it comes to a Social Security Disability hearing, you have to have knowledgeable, experienced attorneys and administrative law judges reading through the case files, applying the correct standards to those files, and making a determination.
Because SSD is a complex program dealing with a complex issue, that of a medical condition, demonstrated by sometimes voluminous medical documentation and that applies to individual human beings, with varied backgrounds, experience, and physical capabilities, there is no magic solution to the hearing backlog the Social Security Administration faces.
A recent report from SSA’s Office of Inspector General essentially points to that problem, as the agency struggles to deal with more hearings after years of inadequate budgetary allocations by Congress.
The backlog is now at 1 million cases, leading to an average time to process a claim of 450 days, the worst in the history of the program. But like the impending exhaustion of the SSD trust fund, there are no surprises here.
Anyone who has been watching the situation, as budget requests have been cut in the face of increasing demands on the program, would have expected exactly this. Some in Congress may have been hoping for this type of outcome, as it would permit them to further discredit the program with the goal of dismantling it.
While the OIG report points to elements of the process that can be improved, its main recommendation consisted of administrative “window dressing” on how reports and plans are created and published.
The hard reality is hiring 400 ALJs is a massive undertaking. Integrating them into the process and helping streamline elements of the process, such as better organization of documents for the judges and use of video conferences to allow hearings in remote locations, will take time and a commitment from Congress to ensure adequate funding.
Otherwise, the OIG will be reporting of a 1.5 million case backlog in the next few years.
Source: washingtonpost.com, “The biggest government backlog is getting worse, watchdog says, but Social Security has a plan,” Lisa Rein, October 19, 2015