Response to GAO: COVID-19 Service Delivery Challenges

NADE Correspondence

Hello Ms. Garcia,

I’m writing from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), where we are working on a project focused on service delivery changes at SSA due to COVID-19. We’re interested in learning about what NADE members have experienced during that time. We are aware that you have spoken with other GAO teams in the past. GAO is very grateful for your continued generosity in sharing your expertise and experiences with us.

We are conducting this specific work in response to a Congressional request from the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittees on Social Security and Worker & Family Support. We are particularly interested in (1) changes to SSA service delivery due to COVID-19, (2) the impact of those service delivery changes on the public, including on vulnerable populations, and (3) any lessons learned from addressing COVID-19 service delivery challenges.

While we’re also soliciting input from SSA central office and a variety of stakeholder groups, we believe it’s crucial to obtain information directly from the DDS employees who have continued to provide vital services while navigating SSA’s pandemic environment. To that end, we’re hoping to schedule a time to speak with you and/or other union representatives who can share their experience and observations as disability examiners during COVID-19, especially as it relates to the three areas of interest we mentioned above.  

If this is something that NADE is willing to assist us with, I can provide additional details about our specific areas of interest as well as some dates/times that would work on our end. Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything.

Many thanks,


Isabella Anderson | Senior Analyst
Education, Workforce, Income Security
U.S. Government Accountability Office

Hello Ms. Anderson,

I am happy to survey additional DDS after we have a chance to talk. In the meantime, I’m sharing the preliminary results (NADE Executive Board member responses):

1) Changes to SSA service delivery due to COVID-19?

A – Telehealth (TH)

B – FO closures

C – Paper Claim Processing

D – Interruptions to Medical Evidence Collection, including halted/delayed Consultative Exam (CE) scheduling

E – USPS Delivery delays

2) The impact of these service delivery changes on the public, including on vulnerable populations?

A – Overall response to TH exams has been positive, those with internet and compatible video devices have benefited, as well as those with transportation issues. Still underserved are those without access to internet or video capable devices, limited phone data/minutes, or computer/video skills. TH is also limited in use to adults and exams that do not include any testing.

B – Evidence has been lost, or SSA-827s and 1696s not uploaded correctly or timely. Claimant’s have also been negatively impacted if they don’t have the means or ability to file online.

C – Challenges are present with processing paper files (ex: EXR and exclusions), with limited office staff. This has at times resulted in delayed decisions for these groups.

D – CE scheduling is back-logged, in some areas up to 11 months!

E – Failure to Cooperate/Insufficient Evidence (FTC/IE) steps were taken prematurely, halted, and reversed, creating additional processing time and/or staff actions.

3) Any lessons learned from addressing COVID-19 service delivery challenges?

A & B – No resolutions

C – Paper claims are now being converted to allow for processing in the DDS’s new legacy system (DCPS) which has resolved most of this issue.

D – TH yields acceptable exam results and could be extended to some physical exams.

E – FTC/IE temporary policies were enacted, but additional steps to improve communication are still needed. For example: secure email; text messaging; alternate response methods (allow for time and materials for claimant to respond by return mail).

Looking forward to hearing from you!


— Marjorie E Garcia
NADE President