May 03, 2006
Kurt Gallagher
(202) 639-6491

National Social Security Council Says New Rules Will Hurt Americans With Disabilities

Union Analysis Finds Thousands Could Be Denied Benefits; SSA Would Operate Like an HMO

WASHINGTON—The National Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) today charged that new Social Security disability regulations could increase the number of Americans with legitimate disabilities who are denied their benefits.

“The new rules play games with organizational charts, but fail to get serious about improving service to disabled Americans,” said Council President Witold Skwierczynski. “Right now the biggest problem of the current process is the first step, which involves a medical decision by state Disability Determination Services (DDS). The current process involves very little contact or interaction with the disabled applicant, which is frustrating for the disabled and results in inconsistent outcomes from state to state. Unfortunately, Commissioner Barnhart did not address any of the problems that plague the state DDS system.”

Skwierczynski said the failure of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to address these problems makes the appeals process necessary. These problems have been highlighted in testimony to Congress by AFGE, countless disability organizations and advocates, and the Government Accounting Office. Instead the rules implement changes that will make the appeals process more litigious and will not protect the rights or financial well being of people with disabilities.

“These new rules will make the Social Security Administration operate like an HMO when it comes to processing disability claims: deny, deny, deny,” said Skwierczynski. “The result of these new rules will be simple, fewer disabled Americans will get the benefits they deserve and more people will be forced to hire a lawyer in an attempt to secure those benefits.”

AFGE supports reforms that were proven successful by two SSA pilot projects. One pilot introduced a social worker-like approach to the initial step, which cut processing times by 50% while improving service. The second pilot focused on face-to-face contact between the SSA employee and the applicant. Both programs were overwhelmingly embraced by the public, but the new rules include none of the provisions proven successful by the pilot projects.

Skwierczynski said SSA should hire more employees to process claims if it is serious about reducing processing times. “Instead SSA is hiring an army of lawyers to review denials when they come in the door from state officials,” said Skwierczynski. “Americans become uncomfortable when they’re told ‘talk with my lawyer,’ but that’s exactly what disabled people will have to do to appeal their case.”

The rules create the new position of federal reviewing official, an attorney who will be the first SSA official to review an appeal of a denial by a state official. The FRO will author a legal decision on the case that must refuted at future appeals steps if benefits are to be awarded.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 600,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia. The National Social Security Council, officially known as the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals (AFGE Council 220), represents about 28,000 employees of the Social Security Administration who work in field offices and national calling centers.

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