A reoccurring theme on my blog is the backlog at the hearing level for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI claims. I recently discussed that one of the factors in the backlog was the decrease in on-the-record (OTR) Fully Favorable Decision produced by attorney advisors (AA’s) or known as senior attorneys. The Social Security Administration (SSA) and the National Hearing Office are tinkering with the programs in effort to reduce the hearing backlog for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI claims.
First, a bit of background regarding the role of AA’s. During the mid 2000’s, the AAs were part of a program to reduce the hearing backlog by allowing them to decide plans on-the-record which were likely succeed during full adjudication. For instance in 2010, AAs decided about 54,000 cases. However, by the end of fiscal year 2015, they had only decided 607 cases for the entire year. This is part of the reason the processing times continued to escalate as well as the number of pending cases at the hearing level increased. Claimants’ attorneys could refer cases likely for fully-favorable on-the-record decisions to the AAs, but that is no longer the case.
In 2011, ODAR announced an initiative called The Virtual Screening Unit (VSU) made up of about 100 ODAR attorneys who screened cases identified by the National ODAR. Representatives could not refer cases to the VSU for review. In 2013, procedures became more restrictive partially due to congressional hearings critical of the hearing level processes. In late 2013, ODAR restricted the authority of AAs to only review and issue fully-favorable decisions in cases that had been selected by the “National Screening Unit” (NSU), not those reviewed at the direction of the local hearing office management. Also, there were very limited categories of cases where AAs could issue fully-favorable decisions.
In 2015, procedures changed again and ODAR created the National Adjudication Team (NAT). These are full-time senior attorneys able to issue fully-favorable decisions in cases appearing to have a strong likelihood of a favorable decision. This team will handle cases nationally only as assigned and selected by the National ODAR with limited circumstances where the NAT attorneys can issue fully-favorable decisions.
Overall, this floundering by the National ODAR and the SSA in terms of a realistically effective use of AAs is unlikely to succeed in reducing the backlog of cases at the hearing level.
If you need more information about a Social Security Disability/SSI, personal injury, EEOICPA, long or short-term disability, Railroad Retirement Board disability, or a workers compensation matter, please contact the Law Offices of Tony Farmer and John Dreiser. We can be reached at (865) 584-1211 or (800) 806-4611 or through our website.