Commissioner Barnhart Unveils New Social
Security Disability Determination Process
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, issued a final
rule establishing a new disability determination process. The new
process, built upon Social Security’s electronic disability
claims process, will shorten decision times and pay benefits to
people who are obviously disabled much earlier in the process.
“The changes we are making in the disability process will
greatly improve the quality of service that Social Security provides
to millions of disabled workers and their families,” Commissioner
Barnhart said. “The new process uses 21st century technology
and creates accountability at every step. It reflects my goals
of improving the accuracy, consistency and fairness of our process
and ensuring that we make the right decision as early in the process
The new disability process provides for:
- A quick disability determination process for those who are
obviously disabled. Favorable decisions would be made in such
cases within 20 days after the claim is received by the state
disability determination agency.
- A new Medical-Vocational Expert System (MVES) to enhance the
expertise needed to make accurate and timely decisions. The MVES
will be composed of a Medical-Vocational Expert Unit and a national
network of medical, psychological and vocational experts who
meet qualification standards established by the Commissioner.
- A new position -- the Federal Reviewing Official -- that will
review state agency determinations upon the request of the claimant.
This will eliminate the reconsideration step of the current appeals
- Retention of the right to request a de novo hearing and decision
from an Administrative Law Judge if the claimant disagrees with
the decision of the Federal Reviewing Official.
- Closing the record after the Administrative Law Judge issues
a decision, with provision for certain good cause exceptions
to this rule.
- A new body -- the Decision Review Board -- to review and correct
decisional errors and ensure consistent adjudication at all levels
of the disability determination process. The current Appeals
Council will be phased out gradually.
Social Security plans to phase in the new process on a region-by-region
basis beginning with the Boston Region this summer. The Boston
Region is comprised of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The new disability process
is the result of a collaborative effort that began during a discussion
Commissioner Barnhart had with President Bush early in her term.
On September 25, 2003, Commissioner Barnhart presented Congress
with an approach to improving the disability process. Since then,
Commissioner Barnhart and Agency staff conducted hundreds of
meetings with interested groups and individuals. Social Security
also carefully considered nearly 900 suggestions received during
a 90-day public comment period that followed publication of a proposed
regulation to improve the disability process on July 27, 2005.
comments we received during our extensive outreach effort and in
response to our proposed rule were extremely helpful and deeply
appreciated,” said Commissioner Barnhart. “I
was very impressed with the professionalism, time and effort that
the interested parties put into their suggestions. I believe we
have improved the final rule as a result."
The preamble to
the final rule explains the changes that were made to the proposed
regulation as a result of the comments the Agency received. To
ensure that discussions and improved understanding continue even
after implementation of the final rule, the preamble also notes
that Social Security plans to continue to meet with interested
parties as the new process is rolled out.
In conjunction with
the changes in the disability determination process, Social Security
is conducting several demonstration projects aimed at helping people
with disabilities who are interested in working. These projects
support the President’s New Freedom Initiative
and provide for work incentives and opportunities earlier in the
process. In these demonstrations, the Agency will test providing
cash supports, various forms of medical benefits and employment
supports such as transportation assistance. Social Security will
look at how making these available will help people with disabilities
“From the beginning, I have been committed to developing
a disability determination process that provides the level of service
the American people expect and deserve,” Commissioner Barnhart
said. “I am confident that this rule will do just that.”
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: For more information
on the new disability determination process, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/disability-new-approach.
The final rule is on public display at the Office
of the Federal Register.
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