Disability Determination Services

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About Colorado DDS

Disability Determination Services (DDS) is the state agency that makes the disability decisions for Social Security. When Social Security added protection for the disabled in 1954, Congress wrote into the law that the disability decision had to be made by a state agency, not a federal office. Social Security pays the state to run the office and make the decision. DDS has nothing to do with the application process, any other eligibility determination, nor the determination or calculation of benefits. Learn more by expanding the sections below.

Mission statement and values
Our mission statement

To make accurate and timely disability decisions for the residents of Colorado in a courteous, cost conscious manner following Social Security disability rules and regulations.

Our values

We treat all of our clients with dignity and respect guided by the State Code of Ethics We prize excellence and accuracy in our decision-making. We see change as opportunity. We elicit and value client input about our processes. Our aim is to be the benchmark DDS for customer service, accuracy of our decisions, and cost effectiveness.

General information

Disability Determination Services is a division with the Colorado Department of Human Services' Office of Adult, Aging and Disability Services. We are located in Aurora at Interstate 225 and Parker Road. We employ approximately 50 disability examiners, 25 physicians and 40 administrative and clerical staff. We make medical decisions on about 40,000 claims per year.

Our staff gathers medical information from the sources listed by our clients and any new sources we discover in that process. We evaluate that evidence against Social Security Disability criteria. These criteria are very specific. They essentially say that our applicants must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or which will last for at least 12 consecutive months, and which prevents them from performing the work related activities of their previous jobs or any other jobs which they might be able to perform based on their age, education, and work experience. (See www.ssa.gov/disability for complete information about Social Security Disability programs.)

Programs

Social Security has two disability programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). There are some differences and some similarities in the two programs. The definition of medical disability is the same under both programs. 

Social Security Disability Insurance pays disability benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured" meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Supplemental Security Income pays disability benefits based on financial need.

Applying

The basic steps in the process

  • Apply at the local Social Security Office.
    • This may be in person where you sign all forms with the Claims Representative or,
    • You can apply by telephone (800-772-1213) and send the signed forms back to the Claims Representative.
    • You can also apply online at https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/apply.html
  • Social Security sends the file to the DDS.
  • We gather information from the medical and vocational sources that you told us about.
  • We may arrange for a medical examination at our expense if we need specific information that is not in the records we receive.
  • We evaluate all of the medical evidence and your previous work experience and compare it to SSA criteria.
  • We make a determination on the application.
  • We send your records back to SSA with our decision.
  • SSA contacts you with the final results after they make the final determination of eligibility for benefits.

Some things that we may do

  • Contact you and all of your medical sources.
  • Contact people you have told us about who know how your condition affects your daily life.
  • Answer questions about the medical information in file.
  • Ask for your help to get medical evidence.
  • Ask you to go for a specific medical examination at our expense.
  • Invite you to discuss the claim with us.

Some things that we cannot do

  • Discuss your claim or any of the medical evidence with anyone but you or your representative.
  • Tell you anything about your potential eligibility or payment. Social Security must release that information.
Expediting your claim
How to expedite your claim
  • Make certain that you have proper identification when you make your claim: Birth Certificate, Social Security Card, Driver's License, etc.
  • Take time to go over your work history and try to list all of your employers for the last 15 years. Company names, addresses where you worked, supervisors' names, and any proof you have of how much you were paid will all be helpful.
  • Know the date that you stopped working due to your impairment. Know the date that your work changed due to your impairment if that is different from the date when you finally quit. Explain any special working conditions that may have been provided by your employer to keep you on the job.
  • Write down the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any medical source you have seen. We may be able to find "Dr. Smith in Denver" but we will be more certain and much quicker if you provide accurate names, addresses, and telephone numbers.
  • We recommend that you bring copies of your medical records to SSA and have the records placed in your application file to assure the best turnaround time.
  • If your doctor has given you any written instructions that limit your activities, have a copy placed in your file. The date the restriction started and the date it might end are very important to your decision.
  • Send forms back to Social Security and the Disability Determination Service as quickly as possible. The vast majority of the time it takes us to complete a claim is spent waiting on forms and medical reports.
  • Keep yourself informed about your claim. Ask questions if something is not clear to you. If we or SSA are waiting for something, see if you can make a call to help expedite the claim. Many times a doctor will respond to a patient before they will respond to a government agency.
  • We may ask you to explain your "Daily Activities." Answers to these questions are very valuable and may make the difference as to whether your claim is allowed. It is not the length of the answer that helps. What helps is how specifically you answer the questions. Give examples. Mention any limitations. If we ask "Can you go grocery shopping?" an answer of "I can go to the grocery store, but I have to use the electric carts and have people place items in the basket because I can't hold on to anything heavier than a soup can" helps more than just writing "yes" or writing a long paragraph explaining every detail of your experiences.

Colorado's performance

How does Colorado's Disability Determination Services compare to similar offices in other states? Colorado's DDS has typically been in the top 20 when compared to the performance of the 52 other DDS offices in other states and territories. Our emphasis has always been to make the most accurate decision possible while containing costs and consistently providing excellent customer service. Read more by expanding the section below.

More about our performance
The facts

There is a myth in the general community that DDS denies cases routinely and that an individual cannot get an allowance without going to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This is the most persistent fallacy about our Agency. The fact is that in Colorado, in Fiscal Year 2019, 79% of all cases allowed by Social Security are allowed at the DDS level and over 70% are allowed nationally. We work hard to provide the right decision at the earliest possible time. The Social Security Disability Regulations are very strict requiring objective medical documentation of an individual’s condition, not just an unsubstantiated opinion. Therefore, Social Security expects methodical appropriate application of these regulations, and not all claims will be allowed. It is inevitable that some claims will be denied. When one hears DDS denies every claim that we review, it is not factual. In addition, when an ALJ reviews a case it may be more than a year older than when the DDS last reviewed the case and is essentially a different case. The DDS continues working with various stakeholders to improve the process.

Performance measurement

Colorado's DDS has typically been in the top twenty when compared to the performance of the 52 other DDSs in other States and territories. Our emphasis has always been to make the most accurate decision possible while containing costs and consistently providing excellent customer service.

The most important measurement of our performance –accuracy– comes from an independent review of our decisions—both allowances and denials—by Social Security’s Disability Quality Branch. This case sample results in a report of how accurately we make our decisions. Our cumulative accuracy (no decisional or documentation errors) is above the national average when compared to all other 52 State DDSs. In fact, in Federal Fiscal Year 2018, our accuracy was 97.2%, or 2.5 points above the national norm and ranked second in the nation.  

The second most important measurement of our performance is our productivity. According to SSA, high productivity with great accuracy reflects an efficient and cost effective operation. Productivity is defined by the number of cases completed per work year, (PPWY), an annualized measure of productivity taken by dividing the number of cases processed by the full time, part time and contracted personnel as well as overtime. In Federal Fiscal Year 2018, the CO DDS ranked 18th out of 52 in PPWY and was 3 points over the national average.

One other measurement is DDS Average Processing Time. This is the average amount of time from when Social Security sends us the case until we send it back to them with a medical decision. We have been challenged in this performance measure as the volume of claims being received is outpacing our capacity. In Federal Fiscal Year 2018 we received 797 receipts than we have the capacity to adjudicate. Through, July of Federal Fiscal Year 2019 we have received 3,650 more cases than we have the capacity to adjudicate.  In Federal Fiscal Year 2018, our initial case receipts rose by 14% from the previous year and through July of Federal Fiscal Year 2019, receipts have risen an additional 6.7%. Despite these challenges, DDS has maintained an average case processing time that has been as many as 10.9 days below the national average in FY-2018 and FY-2019.

We have taken several actions to improve our productivity, processing times, and accuracy while working with Social Security. We use LEAN and Agile methodologies to improve our business processes. We continue to use screening tools to be able to fast track cases that require expedited handling. A specific subset called QDD (Quick Decision Determinations) are processed on average in just 6.3 days currently.

We have a case Validation Unit of technicians who are striving to prepare and document cases as quickly and accurately as possible. We are receiving assistance from federal and other State DDS work sites as well. We continue to process claims as promptly as possible under the circumstances that exist (high case volume and insufficient and inexperienced adjudicator staff).

Customer service

The Colorado DDS administers one of the largest and most efficient Military Casualty caseloads in the nation. We have several key initiatives and partnerships in place to provide expeditious service to our disabled soldiers. In addition, we are working on several special projects including but not limited to homeless initiatives, pre-release individual cases, and participation in the regional Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  When possible the DDS uses the Presumptive Disability decision, which allows us to expedite certain proposed allowance cases.

Systems initiatives

Social Security has completed a conversion to a nearly paperless, or electronic, format for new case files. This has been a challenge for the entire staff, but has resulted in better customer service and quicker access to medical files for all Social Security staff that need to review the cases. We have implemented several fast tracking initiatives such as the Quick Decision Determinations and Compassionate Allowances on specific cases that Social Security sends to us. We are national leaders in the quality and timeliness on these cases. We were one of the first DDSs that implemented an electronic initiative of more formally rationalizing our decisions to help all stakeholders understand our decisions. Colorado DDS is active in planning for the next generation case processing application (DCPS), and is one of four pilot states for the Department of Defense's Health Information Technology (HIT) effort which focuses on centralizing electronic access to health records.    

DDS partner resources

Vendor resources

Download vendor resources from Colorado Disability Determination Services below. Please return these forms by email to KC.DE.CO.S07.UNIT.60@ssa.gov or by faxing the forms to 833.602.0072.

Lost Warrant Affidavit

If you received notice that you have an uncashed warrant (check), please fill out this form and return to DDS in order to have the warrant reissued.

W9 Packet

If your IRS information has changed, please update our agency by filling out this packet. This will ensure that your payments are made out to the correct entity and sent to the correct address. 

EFT Authorization Form

If you would like to receive your payments via electronic funds transfer, please complete this form.

Teacher and speech and language pathologist resources

The SSI program can provide monthly cash payments to children who are disabled under the rules of the Social Security Administration and whose families have little income or resources. Determining whether a child is disabled under SSI regulations is a collaborative effort among federal and state officials.

We rely upon your professional expertise and judgment to help us. Your information is not the only information we consider when we determine if the child qualifies for SSI, but it very important to us. We make our determination based on all of the medical, educational and other information we receive.

We greatly appreciate your time and assistance in completing and submitting. If you would like to upload your questionnaires directly to the claimant's file, please contact our Professional Relations Unit at KC.DE.CO.S07.PR.Unit@ssa.gov

You can also return these forms by fax to 833.602.0072.

Teacher Questionnaire (SSA-5665)

This form is a request for information for teachers. It is an assessment by the teacher about the child’s activities and functioning; that is; what the child can and cannot do, or is limited in doing. We need this information from you even if the child has been (or was) in your class for only a short time.

Speech and Language Questionnaire

This form is a request for information for school speech and language pathologists.  We ask that you complete it using the most recent testing available.

Contact us

Colorado Disability Determination Services
3190 S. Vaughn Way
Aurora, CO 80014-9833

Frequently called numbers:

DDS front desk 303.368.4100
SSA information line 800.772.1213
TDD - SSA - National 800.325.0778
TDD - SSA - Local 303-236-9826
DDS TTY/TDD 303.752.5650
State of Colorado general information 303.866.5000
Colorado Department of Human Services 303.866.5700
Welfare 303.727.3666