Advocating for the Disabled Community on the National Stage

Advocating for the Disabled Community on the National Stage; current initiatives by the National Association for Disability Representatives (NADR)

In April, I spent time in San Antonio, Texas with a couple of hundred other NADR members whom I consider family. We spent three days collaborating and tackling several areas of concern regarding the Social Security Disability process and how it impacts our clients.

We met with Chief Administrative Law Judge Patrick Nagle. We learned there has been a reduction of cases at the hearing level following a goal to get the hearing decisions out faster. Last year there were over a million claims at the hearing level. Currently, there are 722,000. There were 780,000 cases adjudicated last year and 84,000 cases adjudicated last month. The ultimate goal is to reduce the processing time at the hearing level from 12-18 months down to 9 months.

There are three initiatives the Office of Hearing Operations is currently working on:

  • National Adjudication Team – This consists of a team of attorneys looking at cases to see if they can be awarded without holding a hearing.
  • Pre-hearing Development Conferences – The office is contacting unrepresented clients prior to the hearing and much earlier in the process to encourage clients to find representation. This is helping the judges identify no-shows and develop the record in order to avoid unused hearing slots; and will allow judges to more efficiently hold hearings.
  • Voluntary Standby List – The office is scheduling hearings 75 days ahead of time.  If there are open hearing times, clients can waive the 75-day notice and the office can offer an earlier hearing in the open time slots.

We also spoke with Mary Quatroche, a Senior Disability Policy Advisor at the Social Security Administration (SSA). Her unit’s main initiative at this time is replacing the outdated Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) with the Occupation Information Survey (OIS). The DOT was published almost 40 years ago and many of the jobs vocational experts testify to at hearings are obsolete. SSA   began working with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) over ten years ago and just finished three years of data collection where they studied the physical demands, environmental conditions, and vocational preparation of 374 jobs. This information is expected to be published soon. BLS just started collecting data for the mental and cognitive demands for work. In January, Phil Litteral, NADR’s president, met with BLS to learn more about the initiative, express concern, and give input.  NADR has created an OIS taskforce to stay current with new information and address issues as the arise.

NADR is dedicated to solving problems as they relate to the Social Security Disability process and regularly meets with SSA to address timely issues. NADR is also committed to working with Jeanne Morin, Public Policy Advisor in Washington D.C. to address important issues that directly impact our clients.

I am proud to serve on NADR’s board as Director at Large and will continue to work hard to advocate for swift and fair decisions for our clients.

Written by CEO and Disability Representative Kelly Blad