Winning at a Social Security Disability Hearing
It can take well over a year after requesting a disability hearing for your case to be heard before an administrative judge. In addition, if you are at the stage where you have requested a hearing, you have most likely already waited many months to receive a decision at the two lower levels of consideration, the initial claim and the request for reconsideration appeal with disability determination services.
All of this adds up to a lengthy, often financially disastrous period of time without benefits for an individual who is unable to work. It is important, then, that when your case finally comes before a judge, you have an idea of what the odds are that you will win your case.
The good new is that a claim for disability is more likely to be approved by a judge at a disability hearing than by a disability examiner working for your state disability determination agency (while disability claims are taken in local social security office, in each state they are sent to a DDS, or disability determination services agency for processing). Statistics show that those filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI benefits are far more likely to be approved when they use the appeals process than when they start over with a new claim.
Although the rate of disability approval does vary from state to state, approximately 50 percent of all cases heard at social security hearings before an administrative judge are approved. This is a composite number. The actual breakdown, according to federal statistics, is that approximately 40 percent of unrepresented claimants will win at a hearing while as much as 62 percent of claimants will win benefits following a hearing.
Older applicants fare best at this level, because the grid used to determine a person's ability to obtain suitable employment or to learn a new trade tends to support the fact that fewer job options are available to those 50 and older. Having said that, though, younger individuals are equally likely to win their claims as long as their medical records establish that they have severe limitations (of a physical or mental nature, or both) that rule out their ability to perform their past work or any other type of work that their education and skills might suit them for.
Even when a claimant is capable of representing their own case at a hearing, some judges are simply more likely to seriously consider evidence when it is presented by a lawyer. Unfortunately, disability decisions, like all decisions made by human beings, are not entirely objective.
If it was just a matter of reviewing the evidence without some level of interpretation, then your claim would be either approved or denied, and there would be no need for an appeals process. If you make sure that when your case comes before a judge it is presented in the best, most professional light possible, you can only increase the odds of winning at a disability hearing.
Continue to Part 2: Preparing for a Disability Hearing to Win Social Security or SSI Benefits
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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