When you file an application for Social Security Disability benefits in Virginia – either for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – your claim may be handled by as many as four different agencies or groups. These groups are: Disability Determination Services (DDS) at the initial application and request for reconsideration levels; the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) at the Social Security Disability hearing level; the Appeals Council if you request review of the administrative law judge’s decision; and, the federal district court if you file a lawsuit after exhausting all administrative appeals.
But some things have changed.
Effective October 1, 2017 ODAR no longer exists. According to a memorandum issued by SSA Acting Commissioner Nancy Berryhill in August 2017, ODAR will be split into two different components: The Office of Hearing Operations (OHO) and the Office of Appellate Operations (OAO). The OHO will be responsible for handling hearings before the administrative law judge. And the OAO, which contains the Appeals Council and its judges, will be moved to the SSA’s Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO). That’s a lot of acronyms.
In explaining the rationale behind the move, Acting Commissioner Berryhill stated:
Integration of these organizations with complementary missions provides an opportunity to mature our anti-fraud efforts, institutionalize and foster data analysis in our programs, improve coordination to provide oversight of the disability adjudication system, and communicate a unified message within and outside the agency. This restructuring presents an opportunity to maximize our resources and better organize efforts to explore and develop the future of analyses and oversight. I said in my first communication January 23rd that we will be mission focused and mission driven. The establishment of this organization further demonstrates a commitment to maximizing our performance and employee engagement while enhancing and improving agency policies and processes so that we provide quality public service.
What does this mean for disabled adults seeking benefits?
We are all for any changes that: 1) reduce the hearing back log so that claimants do not have to wait months or even years to receive their day in court; 2) better educate disability claims examiners and administrative law judges on the Social Security Act and proper evaluation of medical evidence so that a higher percentage of meritorious SSD claims are approved; and, 3) revamp the Appeals Council so that more meritorious appeals are granted, which means the denials are either reversed or remanded for an additional hearing.
We’re not sure what, if any, difference these changes will make for disability claimants who are at the hearing level or who have requested review by the Appeals Council. But we’re going to keep an eye on it moving forward.
Feel free to contact us should you have any questions, comments, or concerns on this issue.