Does your chance of winning disability benefits at a hearing depend on the judge you get?
There is no doubt that the outcome of a disability hearing can depend on the specific administrative law judge that you get. Disability attorneys and non-attorney disability representatives are usually well aware of which judges at a hearing office are more likely to pose a problem for a claimant's case. Some judges have a reputation for being tougher on children's disability claims while others are known to be less (or more) likely to approve a case that is based primarily on a certain condition, such as ADHD or fibromyalgia.
Is there anything that you or your disability lawyer can do if your case is assigned to be heard by a harsh judge? In a word, no. The hearings office determines which cases go to which particular judges and there is no option for protesting the assignment of the judge. Generally, this assignment tends to "stick" through a variety of circumstances.
For example, if you miss your hearing date or know in advance that the hearing date will be in conflict with your schedule (you may have a doctor's appointment or a family matter scheduled for that date), you can request rescheduling. But your case will stay with the same judge. Even if your case is denied at a disability hearing and you file the next appeal--a request for review of the administrative law judge's decision--and then your case is subsequently scheduled for a remand hearing (basically a second chance at a hearing), then you will likely have your remand hearing in front of the very same judge who previously saw you...and denied your case.
Typically, the only way for a claimant to get a new judge on a Social Security Disability or SSI case is if they actually move from state to another. A move of this distance will necessitate that the jurisdiction for a claim be changed to a new social security field office and a new hearings office.
Of course, the corollary to the question with which we began is "Can your chances of winning disability benefits be improved depending on which judge you get at a hearing?". And the answer is, yes, of course. Just as some judges are known to be harder, and have a higher rate of denial, other judges have a documented higher rate of approval for the cases they decide.
However, since a claimant can never predict when they file a request for a hearing whether or not they will get a sympathetic judge, the best approach to an impending hearing is preparation. Proper hearing preparation usually begins with obtaining qualified disability representation. But it also includes several other things.
Continued at: 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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