Premier Disability Attends the Eighth Circuit Social Security Disability Conference

Posted August 19, 2016 by Premier Disability Services, LLC® On August 11 and 12, 2016, members of Premier Disability’s Legal Department attended the Eighth Circuit Social Security Disability Conference in downtown Minneapolis. On behalf of Premier, I would like to thank our hosts with the Minnesota CLE in addition to the members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) who spoke at the conference. I would further like to extend our gratitude to all of the speakers who put on fantastic presentations.

Some of the individual presentations will be touched on in later articles. For the purpose of this article, I would like to address some of the updates we learned during Judge Richard Thrasher’s presentation. Judge Thrasher is the Chief Administrative Law Judge in the Minneapolis hearing office. Judge Thrasher provided some candid data regarding the current status of one of our most difficult issues to discuss with clients; i.e. wait times at the hearing level.

According to Judge Thrasher, there is a very real understaffing issue in many hearing offices nationwide. Many hearing offices are losing Judges faster than they can replace them. In addition to this, the Social Security Administration has gone away from a production based structure where Judges had to disposition a set number of cases. Instead, SSA has gone toward a quality based structure where Judges are given a limited number of cases per year to decide. Obviously, this model combined with understaffing has created some backlog issues. Namely, the hearing wait time on a national level has ballooned to an average of 536 days from the hearing request to the hearing date.

Another update that Judge Thrasher provided relating to delays in the hearing process was related to the backlog of decisions waiting to be written. When an Administrative Law Judge makes a formal decision on a case, the decision is sent to “Decision Writing” where a Decision Writer will draft the Judge’s formal opinion. Due to understaffing with Decision Writers, the number of cases decided on that need to be written is approximately 30,000. In other words, the Judge makes a decision, places the decision in writing status, and it sits there waiting.
Judge Thrasher did state that the Minneapolis ODAR is taking action to try and lower the hearing backlog. Specifically, he would like to see his hearing office increase to 14 Judges in the future. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen how other hearing offices will work down this significant backlog.

By: Thomas A. Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®