Articles Posted in Administrative Law Judges

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A government watchdog report is asking an important question – Does the Social Security Administration’s expectation that judges resolve a minimum number of cases every year place an unfair burden on the administrative law judges who oversee disability hearings?

A report by the United States Government Accountability Office titled Process Needed to Review Productivity Expectations for Administrative Law Judges is asking whether these expectations are reasonable or construe an excessive burden on judges.

The massive backlog in the resolution of Social Security disability cases has long been a problem that has plagued the Social Security Administration. In some cases, applicants who have a claim initially rejected may have to wait more than a year to get their case before an administrative law judge. In 2007, the Social Security Administration decided to tackle the backlog problem head on by stating that judges would be required to resolve a minimum number of cases annually. The agency stated that it expected judges to deliver between 500 to 700 opinions annually.

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A disability hearing is one of the most critical stages in your appeals process.  While it is not required that you attend in person, it could be critically important that you do so.  So yes, you have to attend your disability hearing.

Remember that the disability hearing gives you face to face interaction with key persons who will decide the fate of your case. The administrative law judge (ALJ) assigned to your case will be able to ask you questions and hear your side of the story.  You will be able to provide evidence about your eligibility for benefits, and will be able to tell the judge in your own words why you believe that you qualify for disability benefits. You can present your account of your condition to your judge, and persuade him or her about the severity of the symptoms which restrict your ability to work.

In some cases, the judge will be able to see firsthand that you indeed do suffer from the limitations that you have claimed in your appeal. For instance, if your claim is based on mobility problems, musculoskeletal problems, chronic fatigue, or other problems that are easily apparent, the hearing will give the judge a chance to see how your condition limits your ability to perform substantial gainful activity and earn a living. If you stay home and are absent from the hearing, you are depriving the ALJ of the opportunity to take notice of how the symptoms affect you. This could be crucial to the success of your claim.

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At a typical disability hearing, you can expect plenty of questions about your medical condition, the treatment you are undergoing and other medical and health-related aspects of your case. It’s very important to be absolutely certain about the kind of limitations your condition places on you. Being vague, or sounding uncertain at a disability hearing, could prove disastrous for your case.

For instance, if you are seeking disability benefits for a condition that involves a lot of pain, you will be expected to describe the intensity of your pain. Being vague, hesitating, or exaggerating your symptoms will not help. The judge may also ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, and you should be able to do so without any hesitation.

You must also be prepared to provide very detailed and specific answers to questions about the nature of your symptoms, and the physical and mental limitations that they impose on you. If your job requires you to carry heavy loads, and you’re unable to do that because of your condition, be prepared to explain this to the judge at the disability hearing.

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The Social Security disability hearing is the most important stage in your benefits claim process.

It’s important to be prepared for your disability hearing, so that you can give appropriate answers to the questions asked. You can expect the administrative law judge (ALJ) in charge of your hearing to ask you several questions about your medical condition.

You will be asked about your health and the medical condition from which you suffer. Expect plenty of questions about the kind of symptoms that you have, and the frequency and intensity of those symptoms.  In most cases, you will be asked very specific questions about the physical and mental limitations you suffer as a result of your condition.

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If your Social Security disability benefits claim is denied, you have the right to file an appeal. It is very important to do this because many claims are denied initially, but are approved at the appeals stage.

The disability hearing will play a very important role in the appeals process. A hearing takes place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and you will be required to present your case at the hearing with your Social Security disability benefits attorney. (It’s not necessary that you be represented by an attorney, but it is highly recommended as the chances of success increases with the help of experienced legal counsel.)

Arrive on time for the hearing, and dress appropriately. It’s best to discuss the questions that will be asked of you at the appeal hearing beforehand with your attorney. Your attorney will make sure your answers are correct, concise, and address the important issues properly.

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As of December 2012, the Social Security Administration had 1,566 administrative law judges on its roster. That is a few judges more than the initially stated goal of more than 1500 judges. In 2009, the Social Security Administration had a severe shortage of administrative law judges, with just 1000 judges.

The increased number of administrative law judges who are now available to hear Social Security disability hearings will definitely have an impact on the speed with which claims can be processed. The Social Security Administration is currently dealing with a major backlog of claims, and the average claim can take months to be processed. Increasing the number of judges is just one way in which some of that backlog pressure can be released.

However, it’s far too early to expect any improvement in the speeding up of claims processing. The Social Security Administration’s ability to retain the administrative law judges that it currently has might be hampered by federal budgetary restrictions.

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judge.jpgThousands of Social Security applicants, who had their disability claims denied, may have their claims re-heard. That will likely happen under the terms of a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused several administrative law judges of bias.

The lawsuit alleged that at least 5 administrative law judges in the Queens Social Security office in New York City had presided over claims hearings that made light of many of the serious disabilities that the applicants suffered. Many of the Social Security applicants who appeared before the hearings were made fun of when they recounted their injuries. In some cases, they were insulted so badly that they were driven to tears.

The lawsuit has now resulted in a settlement between the Social Security Administration and the plaintiffs. As part of the terms of the settlement, the Social Security Administration has agreed to remove all 5 administrative law judges from those cases. That means that all of these applicants who had their claims denied will now have the chance to appear before new judges.

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