Is it worth appealing a Social Security Disability denial by an Administrative Law Judge?

My own opinion is that if the individual who provided representation at your disability hearing is of the opinion that such an appeal has merit, by all means request a review of the administrative law judge decision (ALJ's make the disability decision at the hearing level).

My own observation, of course, is that very few cases are approved at the level of the appeals council (the body that reviews judge's hearing decisions). A case that has been submitted to the appeals council has the potential of overturning a denial issued by a judge. However, typically, the response a claimant and his disability representative will get back is "request for review denied". Meaning, in essence, another denial, at which point a claimant will need to consider whether or not they wish to pursue the claim to the next level, federal district court. The best case scenario that a claimant and his disability attorney can hope for, in most instances, is for a remand.

What is a remand? A remand is a second disability hearing and it occurs when the appeals council finds some deficiency or fault with the decision issued by the administrative law judge at the disability hearing. Remands are great in the sense that the claimant will get a second chance to have their case heard at the hearing level. They're not so great when one considers the fact that a remand hearing will be held by the same disability judge who denied the case in the first place. Human nature being what it is, some judges may not feel as though their initial decision was wrong, no matter what the reason for the remand is.

Should you appeal a denial by an ALJ at a hearing? If your disability representative (attorney or non-attorney) believes so, yes. However, even though the favorable odds from such an appeal are somewhat slim, nicely enough a claimant can still file a new disability application while their appeals council appeal is pending (cases sent to the appeals council can take a very very long time). In fact, your representative may advise you to file a new claim while you wait on the appeals council.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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