May 10, 2007
NADR Committee Raises
Issues with Top SSA Officials
In late April, NADR representatives had several private meetings
in and around the Washington and Baltimore areas including two
occurring with Social Security Management. The first of these
was in Baltimore where we met with Fritz Streckewald, Assistant
Deputy Commissioner, Disability and Income Security Programs;
Lisa de Soto, Deputy Commissioner for Disability Adjudication
and Review; and Mary Glenn-Croft, Assistant Deputy Commissioner
The second meeting took place in the Washington DC office with
the new Commissioner, Michael Astrue.
We had opportunities to discuss various issues raised by NADR members
as well as the Agency’s future plans and direction. It was
our intent to introduce ourselves to the Commissioner and offer
“from the weeds” input whenever deemed to be helpful.
Commissioner Astrue Discusses
Commissioner Astrue, who was just confirmed on February 12,
2007, offered information surrounding several initiatives he
has already begun to investigate and even modify. He discussed
the overwhelming case backlog, the new Disability Service Improvement
(DSI) project in Region 1, and ideas for improving the disability
Mr. Astrue seemed open, direct and to the point. He’s
a “quick study” who appears to already understand
the monumental problems which exist in the disability programs.
Specifics he discussed include:
DSI - Issues surrounding
the new DSI program and various initiatives found within.
It appears that this program is not the success that many
had hoped although components of it are successful.
Quick Decision Determination (QDD)
- This is presently occurring in the DSI project in Region
1 and apparently is a successful component whereby claimants
with significant diseases or impairments are “fast tracked”
and can be found eligible within 20 days. This is “working
well” and the model is expected to be rolled out across
the country in the future.
Federal Reviewing Official (FedRO)
- This program, centered in the Appeals Council at Falls Church,
has replaced the reconsideration level in DSI. Apparently,
the costs were greater than anticipated with no overwhelming
benefit to the process identified. Continuation of this program
appears questionable at best.
Office of Medical and Vocational Experts
(OMVE) - There is recognition that better qualified
experts are required across the board but given the financial
remuneration they currently receive, there is little likelihood
of having quality personnel. Social Security will be looking
at this issue and opening a national registry for ME’s
and VE’s. Remuneration for them is expected to be increased
and tied to COLA’s in the future.
Decision Review Board (DRB)
- It appears that the DRB which has (or eventually would have)
taken the place of the Appeals Council in DSI will be modified
and there will be various aspects taken from both to create
the new entity. The positive news is that there are expected
to be rights of appeal similar to those we presently have
at the AC whereas claimants going to the DRB had limited,
if any, rights of appeal.
Setting Hearings & Evidence Submission
- The good news is that they are looking to eventually set
hearings 75 days in advance versus the current 20 days. The
bad news that goes along with this will be a greater expectation
for timely submission of evidence and adverse consequences
should that not occur. Submission of post hearing evidence
is expected to be significantly restricted.
Physician concerns regarding HIPAA
Releases - SSA has received concerns about physicians
not honoring various releases due to questions about HIPAA
compliance. This is being investigated and will be dealt with.
ALJ’s - The current
number of ALJ’s is 1102. The goal is to increase that
to 1250. Late last week a call for applications to those interested
in becoming an ALJ was made. It is also understood that there
are several ALJ’s whose production rates are inconsistent
with most. They are expected to be reviewed.
- Mr. Astrue was very informed about issues surrounding listings.
He discussed various rare genetic diseases and focused, via
example, about boys with Hunter Syndrome. Given his background
as President and CEO of Transkaryotic Therapies, a company
that produces pharmaceuticals, he was able to provide specifics
regarding pharmaceutical interventions which may now exist
that previously did not and how persons with various impairments
should be granted benefits at the earliest opportunity using
“Compassionate Allowances.” This would occur even
though they may not meet nor equal a listing because the disease
itself has specific known mortality, impairment, or progression
Communication Forums - Finally,
Mr. Astrue discussed how important he felt it was to obtain
communication from various entities involved with the process.
He hopes to institute public “hearings” on a quarterly
basis. These would be two day events for small groups of various
stakeholders in the disability process with the first day
being focused issues and the second day being more “freeform.”
Discussions with Assistant and
Our meetings in Woodlawn were also extremely productive with
significant discussion on several issues that have been repeatedly
voiced by our membership. It must be stated that when you are
meeting with the people in charge of all the Payment Centers,
DDS’s, Field Offices, and Offices of Disability Adjudication,
and Review including the Appeals Council, things can, and should
NADR’s listing on the Handouts
- Many of our members are not getting any referrals from the
Telephone Referral Service (TRS) hotline because NADR may
not be listed in the sheets which are given to claimants seeking
representation. We have, for several years, asked that NADR
be included and that improper persons and organizations be
removed from these. We were told that this would be acted
upon in the near future and that we will be given a copy of
what is sent to both the FO and ODAR personnel.
Problem ALJ’s - It
is understood that there are ALJ’s within the system
who are acting inappropriately. This is an issue that is on
the radar of these folks and we have been instructed to notify
them if/when issues occur. Ms. de Soto recommended using the
current format for lodging complaints. She felt contacting
your Regional CALJ is the first logical step. If you are dissatisfied
with action (or inaction) taken at this level, you can bring
the issue, with all supporting evidence, to the attention
of the Legislative Committee and when appropriate, complaints
will be submitted directly to Ms. de Soto from NADR President
Chris Marois (lucky him!).
There were also meetings
with organizations who provide representation to Veterans. NADR
supports legislation allowing qualified non-attorney and attorney
representatives to provide this representation for remuneration.
We have been meeting with various groups and investigating training
needs that may be required of our members in order to provide
quality representation. At the time of our meetings there were
no definitive rules or regulations that had been promulgated,
and as such there were no final decisions regarding our involvement
until such occurred. Significantly, as this E-News was being
written, the 34 page Notice of Proposed Rules was released.
In the interest of providing our members with timely information,
we will not await release of this E-News but will take some
time to “digest” the contents and then submit our
comments. If you would like to review the pertinent Rules they
can be found at the Members Only section of the NADR website
under the heading “Proposed VA Regulations”. If
you have comments on the proposed rules, please direct them
to me or to Chris
Marois, the acting Chairperson of the VA Ad Hoc committee.
NADR Vice President &
Legislative Committee Chair
Association of Disability Representatives
1901 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 607, Washington DC 20006
For any NADR inquiries, or membership updates, contact the
National Office staff below:
Phone: 202.362.4511, ext. #20
Phone: 202.362.4511, ext. #15