On April 6, 2023, the Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) issued a report regarding the Social Security Administration and their partnership with what is called the Disability Determination Service agencies. You may not know that the Social Security Administration contracts with the state Disability Determination Service (DDS) offices for reviewing and ordering medical evidence in your Social Security Disability claim. These employees are not employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA), but rather state employees contracted to do this work.
The report is eye opening as the DDS offices are in backlogs that seem incomprehensible to overcome unless something substantial happens within the partnership of SSA and DDS agencies. The report states, “The relationship structure has remained static for decades even as technology, program integrity, and other requirements have changed.” Lastly, it offers examples of how SSA’s management approach helps and hinders the relationship as well as outlines the disability determination process more broadly and highlights three areas warranting further review. The three areas include DDS personnel, information technology, and performance and productivity.
The report documents considerable variation in the DDS approach and outcomes of their decision across the different state agencies which conflicts with SSA’s focus on “program uniformity.” While I have told claimants time and time again the backlog increases are due to the pandemic, this report notes workload processing delays at the DDS offices began before the pandemic in FY 2019 and have only worsened due to the pandemic. Some of the factors influencing the backlog are:
- Difficulty in obtaining needed medical evidence during the pandemic
- An unplanned transition to telework and longer-term closure of some DDS offices
- Insufficient technology to communicate with claimants and for workload processing
- Limitation on administrative expenses
- Fluctuating staffing levels
- The length of time needed for new DDS staff to gain proficiency
- Higher DDS attrition rates
The report also indicates that there is a need for better communication and support between DDS and SSA. The report concludes that the state agencies “are struggling to keep up in the current environment” and notes the process is significantly affected by DDS personnel challenges, the effect of technology on the workload, and SSA’s own quality review format.
DDS workers have no one to really answer to in making adverse decisions that deny Claimant’s benefits they deserve and even fail to follow SSA’s rules on DIRE need status and compassionate allowance regulations. Our office routinely has to point out medical and treating source opinions in the file to claims representatives with the DDS office despite it being exhibited in the file. We here at Gardberg and Kemmerly specialize in disability claims and work hard to follow through on your claim with all DDS and SSA offices. If you have a claim for disability and need assistance please call our office at 251-343-1111 for a free consultation on your VA and/or SSA claim. Gardberg & Kemmerly specializes in helping the injured and disabled in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana.