Here's one that all Social Security Disability lawyers can be happy with! The Graduate School has awarded its 2011 W. Edwards Deming Award to the Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Office of Appellate Operations (OAO) for its new training program, aimed at bringing new employees up to speed quickly and cutting down the SSA's backlog of appellate cases.
A person who files a Social Security disability claim that is later denied in an initial decision by the SSA - following a subsequent request for reconsideration for New Jersey and Connecticut social security disability applicants - may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing before an SSA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). A claimant who disagrees with the ALJ's decision may further appeal in federal court or by filing an appeal with the SSA's Appeals Council, a group of more than 100 Administrative Appeals Judges and Appeals Officers.
The OAO prepares the certified record for federal appeals and staffs the Appeals Council. In response to an increased case load, OAO needed to find a way to train its employees faster and better. In announcing the award, the Graduate School noted that OAO created "a state-of-the-art course...focused on curriculum that revolutionized how employees are taught new skills, with the desired goal of achieving a high rate of efficiency and accuracy." As a result "150 of its 200 new employees were trained to be fully productive in just eight months, an improvement on a learning curve that had previously last eighteen months."
The new training methods are just one of several attempts to reduce the SSA's backlog of appeals cases. In 2007, SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue announced that the Administration had developed a plan to eliminate the backlog and prevent its recurrence by focusing on: (1) the Compassionate Allowance program, a system that allows Social Security disability applicants suffering from certain serious medical conditions - including various forms of cancer, Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease and Mesothelioma - which require only minimal objective medical evidence in order to prove disability to speed the claim process to a matter of weeks; (2) improving hearing office procedures; (3) increasing adjudicatory capacity; and (4) increasing efficiency with automation and improved business processes.
At the time the plan was announced, more than 750,000 claimants were awaiting a hearing on their disability applications and the average claimant waited more than 500 days to receive a decision. In 2010 the SSA averaged 464 days in rendering a hearing decision. The Administration plans to reduce the wait to 270 days by 2013.