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New Pilot Program to Allow Representatives to Access Clients Files through Internet

By Karl Kazmierczak

August 4, 2008

I am a part of the new Social Security Disability Pilot Program that allows representatives to access their client‘s files over the internet. First, let me say how pleased I am that the Social Security Administration has been able to start this program so quickly. They should be commended for their effort. I know the people pushing for this at SSA have had to jump through many hoops to get this started.

 Understandably the biggest concern and road block to the program was the issue of security. One of the compromises that had to be made was that only the registered lawyer or representative can actually access the file and not anyone else in the representative’s office. This clearly is not very practical but it is just the beginning of the program and SSA is being particularly cautious. One thing I am disappointed about is that I cannot access the file at the application and appeals council stages. My understanding is that eventually it will include these stages as well. Even with these limitations, I can already see the benefit the program has because I no longer have to wait for Social Security to send me the file on a CD.

Under the present system, it is not unusual for the claimant’s lawyer to get a copy of the file on CD only a month or two before the hearing. With the internet access, as soon as the file is at the Office of Adjudication and Review (hearing office) I can look at the file and download it. This is beneficial in several ways to all the parties involved. I am able to look at a file at this early point and evaluate it and decide what evidence is missing so I can get that evidence. In particularly strong cases, I can even send in a brief with a request for an on the record favorable decision. This can potentially free up hearings for other cases because these cases will not have to be scheduled if they are approved. This can also cut down on the amount of processing time of the claim. Typically, a case can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to be scheduled. If I can see that a case is ready for a decision and send a brief detailing why the individual is disabled, and point to the evidence in the file then it is possible to cut a 1 to 2 year wait for strong cases down to a couple of months. In a more typical claim, were the decision is not so clear cut, it is still an advantage because it gives me a look at the whole file and allows me to decide much earlier what needs to be done with the case to get it ready for hearing.
This should benefit the ODAR employees because often times it is easier for the lawyer and claimant to get medical records and when they are sent in this is one less thing an employee of ODAR will have to worry about. The ODAR employees will also not have to take the time to burn the claimants file to a CD for the lawyer. Another advantage is many times before a hearing the claimant is sent for a medical exam by SSA. This new program gives me access to that medical report as soon as it makes it to the file. I can also submit new evidence directly to the claimants file.

The Pilot program has just started and is only available to a small number of representatives and lawyers. This is because it gives SSA an opportunity to work out any bugs and improve the system with only having to deal with a few people. You can imagine if SSA made this available to all representatives and lawyers how difficult it would be to deal with thousands of people instead of just a few. From what I believe is the timeline it should be available in about a year to all. I am very excited about this program and believe it is one of the most important components of a much improved process that will lead to faster processing time for claims in an increasingly burdened system.

Karl Kazmierczak, Esq.




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