If a disabled worker is denied Social Security disability benefits at the first two stages in the disability application process, the next step of appeal requires submitting a “Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge” form. Although virtually all of these requests are granted, due to a large backlog of claims, the wait for a hearing can be a year or more. Many Social Security applicants use this time to work with their disability attorney to prepare for their hearing.
Previously, applicants and their attorneys were given information including the name of the assigned judge, when their hearing was scheduled. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently changed their policy, and will no longer disclose the identity of the judge who preside over the hearing in advance. The SSA felt that attorneys used this to their advantage by declining a request to schedule their client’s hearing if the assigned judge had a statistically low approval rate.
There are many advantages to hiring a qualified disability lawyer, but it can be particularly helpful at this stage of the appeals process. Disability hearings can be overwhelming, and involve the claimant being directly questioned by the judge. Experts, such as doctors or vocational (employment) experts that were hired by SSA could also testify. Since information regarding the number of approvals and denials is publicly available, any Social Security attorney would have been able to go to the hearing with at least a general idea of what they were up against.
Various administrative law judges (ALJs) can have different ways of structuring and operating their hearings. This new rule will negatively affect claimants, because their Social Security attorney will be unable to provide them with information specific to their assigned judge. This hinders their ability to prepare their client for their hearing to the best extent possible.
The SSA is making these changes in order to speed up the disability application process. The SSA believes it will be able to process claims quicker if hearings are not rescheduled due to the ALJ who is hearing the case.