As we've discussed on our blog many times before, the process of securing disability benefits can prove to be very frustrating and highly confusing for those who try to navigate the process on their own.
When questions or concerns inevitably arise, the first stop for many of these people is one of the nearly 1,200 Social Security Administration's field offices scattered throughout the nation. However, many who went to these offices over the last several years in search of answers to their questions about disability benefits probably left with more questions -- and even more frustration and confusion -- than answers.
Thanks to a series of congressional budget cuts, the SSA has had to reduce its staff by nearly 5,000 over the last four years. Furthermore, it has also gradually reduced the hours that its field offices are open to the public from 35 hours to 27 hours.
As you might imagine, this reality not only meant longer lines and increased service complaints from angry customers, it also served to facilitate the growth of an already sizeable backlog of claims.
Fortunately, last year finally saw some progress, as the SSA hired more personnel, and offered overtime services to tackle the backlog and other work.
This positive outlook appears to be continuing. That's because the agency recently announced that thanks to Congress' approval of the 2015 budget, it will be expanding its service hours at field offices.
As soon as March 16, field offices will be open for an extra hour on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, such that an office that is typically open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., would now be open until 4 p.m. (Wednesday afternoons at SSA field offices will continue to be reserved for handling backlog and other important tasks).
"The public expects and deserves world-class customer service and thanks to approved funding, I am pleased we will continue our tradition of exceptional service," said the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.
While it's encouraging to see the SSA taking positive steps to improve its customer service, those looking to secure benefits on their own will likely still encounter significant headaches due to the inherently complexity of the SSD process.
In light of this reality, these people should still give strong consideration to the idea of speaking with an experienced legal professional who can handle all matters -- from the initial application to any appeals -- while they devote their attention to managing their condition.
Sources: The Washington Post, "Social Security Administration restores some office hours," Eric Yoder, Jan. 22, 2015; The Social Security Administration, "Social Security to expand field office hours nationwide," Jan. 22, 2015