On March 31, 2006, the Social Security Administration (SSA) promulgated regulations implementing a new Disability Service Improvement (DSI) process for making disability decisions in the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs. In
general, the DSI process adopts the approach SSA outlined in proposed rules eight months earlier, with some important improvements over the originally proposed process. The key elements of the new process are the introduction of Quick Disability Determinations (QDDs) for certain types of claims where an initial finding of disability can be made within twenty days; the creation of a Medical and Vocational Expert System (MVES), designed to improve the quality and availability of medical and vocational expertise throughout the administrative process; the elimination of the reconsideration level of review following an initial denial of disability benefits; the addition of a Federal Reviewing Official (FRO), who will review appealed initial decisions before such decisions are scheduled for an administrative hearing; the modification of rules on submitting evidence at administrative hearings; and the replacement of the final-appeal-level Appeals Council with a new Decision Review Board (DRB) charged with broader responsibility for identifying and correcting systemic decision errors. Although questions remain about certain details of the new procedure, SSA and Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart have undertaken a much-needed, comprehensive reform of the SSA disability adjudication process.
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