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Many Changes Under Way this Fall at Social Security

November 1999

Changes aimed at making the Social Security system more user-friendly for those who receive disability benefits were implemented on Oct. 1.

A positive change for clients of AIDS Project Los Angeles is the closing of the Miracle Mile Social Security office, 641 S. La Brea Ave.

The majority of clients who had cases there have been reassigned to the Hollywood office, 6730 Sunset Blvd. (east of Highland Avenue). APLA Benefits staff members have established a strong working relationship with employees at the Hollywood office, allowing us to advocate effectively for you, should you encounter problems with your disability claim.


Statements in the Mail

Also on Oct. 1, the Social Security Administration began mailing annual Social Security statements to individuals who are age 25 or older, working, and paying Social Security taxes.

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The four-page statement provides important information, including the approximate amount of disability or retirement benefits you may expect to receive, and the amount your dependents may expect to receive. Another valuable feature of the statement is that your annual earnings for your entire work history will be clearly listed, allowing you to be sure that your earnings have been posted correctly.

This annual statement will be an important financial planning tool to use when preparing for possible long-term disability. The statements will be sent out each year, approximately three months prior to your birthday.


Prototype Redesign Process

What Social Security is calling its "Prototype Redesign Process" is perhaps the most significant change of all.

This very complicated-sounding title refers to a new system Social Security is testing that is intended to improve the way Social Security determines an individual's disability.

Under the previous disability determination process, individuals were commonly turned down for disability benefits when they filed their initial claim. The client was then forced to endure up to two years of a reconsideration appeal process, and in many cases a judicial hearing, before finally being granted disability benefits.

The new "Prototype Redesign Process," however, is intended to replace the old, sluggish procedure with a more streamlined one that should allow disabled individuals access to their benefits at the earliest level possible. The "Prototype Redesign Process" will employ two major changes in procedure.

First, Social Security will require disability analysts to provide more documentation to justify their decision on a disability claim, making them more accountable. Also, for cases that are not based on a pediatric or psychiatric illness, the analyst will no longer have to wait to get a physician to sign-off on the claim before making the final decision. These improvements are intended to save time on processing and create more consistency in the decision-making process.

Second, the redetermination process will be replaced by a "pre-decision interview." Under the previous system, a redetermination is the first appeal you had to go through if your initial claim was denied. The redetermination requires you to file multiple forms and wait several additional weeks while your case is again reviewed by an analyst other than the one who first reviewed your claim.

The "pre-decision interview," on the other hand, is a simple phone call from the analyst. When the disability analyst believes that a claim may be denied, a telephone interview, or rarely, an in-person interview will be arranged. In the interview you will be allowed to thoroughly review your case with your analyst, updating him or her about recent changes in your health, and directing them to additional medical records that may have been missed.

This is your chance to testify on your own behalf and to provide the analyst with information that could help them approve your disability claim. The pre-decision interview could have a major impact on HIV/AIDS related claims. Frequently, the APLA Benefits staff see cases turned down because the doctors' office forgot to mail the analyst your records, an important blood test was missed, the analyst could not read your doctors' handwriting or other annoying reasons. Now, such simple mistakes can be easily cleared up by the pre-decision interview with the analyst.

If needed, APLA Benefits staff can help you prepare for this interview.


Expect Confusion

Because the "Prototype Redesign process" is being tested in 17 L.A. County Social Security offices, and in nine states besides California before it is implemented nationwide, the system may be confusing.

Therefore, until 2001, Social Security will be processing claims under two different systems. After nationwide implementation, SSA believes that more individuals will be granted benefits after filing an initial application or, if denied, will be moved to the hearing level three to four months sooner than with the current system.

As always, APLA Benefits staff members are available to assist you with any questions about the changes discussed here, or with any other benefits questions.


Los Angeles Area Social Security Offices Affected by Prototype Redesign Process
Alhambra200 S. Garfield, Suite 102
Burbank2025 N. Glenoaks
Chatsworth9168 De Soto Ave.
Compton171 E. Compton Blvd.
Crenshaw3657 Crenshaw Blvd.
Culver City3750 S. Robertson Blvd.
Glendale710 S. Central Ave., Suite 320
Glendora903 E. Alosta Ave.
Huntington Park6303 Rugby Ave.
Inglewood230 E. Spruce Ave.
Norwalk10917 E. Firestone Blvd.
Torrance1321 Post Ave.
Tujunga/Verdugo Hills6401 Foothill Blvd.
University Village2021 S. Flower
Watts10345 S. Central Ave.
Westwood11000 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 10203
Whittier9150 S. Painter Ave., Suite 105




Julie Cross is a public benefits coordinator in AIDS Project Los Angeles' Benefits Program. She can be reached by calling (323) 993-1475, by e-mail at jcross@apla.org or by writing to her at APLA, 1313 N. Vine St., L.A. 90028.


This article has been reprinted at The Body with the permission of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA).


  
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This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
 
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