The Social Security Administration's Denver Region office covers the states of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Utah. This vast geographic area contains over 110 counties with six or fewer residents per square mile and 29 American Indian reservations. Some rural locations in the Denver Region are over 280 miles away from their closest Social Security office. Historically, applicants for Social Security benefits living in such remote communities had four options for receiving service: the mail, the telephone, driving to the nearest office, or waiting for a periodic visit by the Social Security Administration (SSA) representative. However, these methods did not offer the immediate and consistent “visual” communication essential to establishing trust and an understanding of benefit programs. As a result, many applicants missed scheduled interviews, leading to abandoned claims.
The Video Service Delivery (VSD) project offers these residents a way to receive “on demand” government services by creating a local video connection with the nearest SSA office. Indian reservations have been the initial focus of the program, as tribal populations are often the most underserved. Video sites are installed locally, allowing claimants to see, hear, and thus better understand available benefits. Consequently, VSD users are much more likely to apply for what they need.
The first video site connected the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota to the Social Security office in Minot, North Dakota. The VSD project has since expanded to 38 additional locations in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. The program has been so successful that installation recently began on a strategic nationwide rollout of VSD that will eventually include the other nine regional office of the SSA.
An evaluation by the University of North Dakota revealed that the VSD project resulted in more than a tenfold increase in filing of applications by tribal members, and that applicants overwhelmingly preferred the video channel over in-person, telephone, and print alternatives. Since the program’s inception, the SSA has seen an increase in claims as high as 80 percent on some reservations.
The SSA is looking to further expand the use of VSD by forging new partnerships with other federal agencies to develop a “One Government” approach to video service delivery. Working with the State Department, the SSA is deploying VSD in field offices overseas, which serve over 500,000 SSA beneficiaries around the world. The “SSA/VA Connect” pilot program was recently launched to establish a link between an SSA VSD unit in Fargo, North Dakota, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs video network. The first SSA/VA Connect claim taken was from a veteran undergoing treatment for stage four colon cancer. The claim, taken through the video link, was approved in just two days.