We recently sent a letter to Glenn E. Sklar, Deputy Commissioner Disability Adjudication and Review of the Social Security Administrationto express our concern about increasing scheduling problems for Social Security disability appeals in the Norfolk Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), where claimants are being subjected to ever-increasing wait times for hearings to be scheduled. We told Mr. Sklar the following:
“During the last year, Norfolk judges have received assignments ranging from permanent caseload assignments doing video hearings in Charlotte Hall, Maryland for the Washington DC ODAR and in Salisbury Maryland for the Delaware ODAR. Now one of Norfolk’s four hearing rooms has been permanently reserved for Norfolk ODAR judges to conduct video hearings for the Baltimore ODAR. Moreover, Norfolk has two retiring judges, one of whom had earlier stopped conducting hearings pending his leaving.
A crisis is certainly approaching in the Norfolk ODAR, if it has not already arrived.
Your wait times for hearings to be scheduled (as published on www.ssa.gov) indicates that the average wait time for hearings is 12 months, placing it somewhere in the middle of the range nationally. We have compared this estimate to our own caseload statistics from ERE status reports. Analysis of SSA’s data for our roughly 500 cases shows that, while a 12-month average can be derived from averaging the entire pending caseload, the wait times have been increasing rapidly since the above reassignments occurred. The current wait times have increased steadily in 2014 from a starting point of 11 months early in the year to 16 months presently. That will have increased to 17 months by the end of this year, based on current scheduling information we have from the Norfolk ODAR. There is no action or strategy that we are aware of that will stop or even slow the trend of ever-increasing wait times. The trend will in very short order result in Norfolk ranking among the worst ODARs in the nation for hearing wait times, and will in short order completely reverse all of the reductions in hearing wait times that occurred after 2008.
You may know that during the latter part of 2013 and first half of 2014, budget and staff shortfalls at DDS offices in the districts whose appeals go to the office created lengthy processing delays of initial and reconsideration determinations. It appears that problem has been solved (at least temporarily), but please understand that those claimants who were finally released from the district offices are now arriving on appeal in the office. They are being double-teamed with one delay at the DO level now compounded by this new one at the Norfolk ODAR.
Again, we understand the reality of the budget battle and the funding shortfalls that have afflicted SSA’s operations. However, the current situation in the Norfolk looks to us like an unfolding disaster for our clients. The office needs its judges back so that the citizens of Southeastern Virginia can again be as well-served as those who live elsewhere in the nation.”
We at Goss & Fentress encourage you to contact your Senators and Congressman to express your dismay at this stripping of federal government resources from Southeastern Virginia