Responding to requests from the Alaska Congressional delegation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is opening a full Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) in Anchorage next February. Currently, the SSA sends judges based in Seattle to Alaska several times a year to hold hearings in various communities, but due to transportation challenges and inclement weather, many hearings are delayed or rescheduled resulting in further costs and delays for Alaskans.
"Alaskans' ability to resolve cases with the Social Security Administration will be greatly improved with the opening of this hearing office in Anchorage," Sen. Begich said. "We appreciate the administration recognizing the unique challenges of our state and being willing to make this investment of time and resources into the cases of Alaskans."
"I applaud the Social Security Administration for recognizing the need for a full Office of Hearings and Appeals in Anchorage" said Sen. Murkowski. "With the expected 2010 opening of this office, Alaskans' will see expedited claims adjudication in Anchorage as well as in Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Juneau, that will all be done in-person. This means our residents cases will no longer be held up in the Seattle backlog, which will considerably shorten the time it takes for a hearing. This is a great win for Alaska."
"I appreciate that the Social Security Administration heard the voices of Alaskans and saw the need for a full Office of Hearings and Appeals in Anchorage," said Rep. Young. "This will be of great benefit to Alaskans who will now be able to lessen the time it takes to resolve their issues. This office will help save time and money for both the SSA and for our constituents and is a win for everyone."
In 2008, the number of disability cases in Alaska that went to a hearing was over 800 per year, representing approximately 5 percent of the workload with an average waiting time of approximately 13-14 months. This has resulted in many Alaskans turning to the Congressional delegation for assistance to move cases through the SSA. Opening an office in Alaska will save Alaskans time and money, and will allow the SSA to avoid the high cost of travel by judges.
The executive director of Access Alaska, a medical organization that provides services to aging Alaskans and those with disabilities said the new hearing office should be a major benefit to the community and the state.
"It has at times been difficult for Alaskans with disabilities to endure needless delays in the resolution of their cases while waiting for hearings," said Jim Begich, executive director of Access Alaska. "We hope this office will reduce the indignities inherent in the process of obtaining these benefits which are a lifeline for many - while also reducing costs to taxpayers."
According to the SSA, the Anchorage office will be fully staffed with personnel including judges, support staff and managers.