Appearing at the ALJ Hearing for Social Security Disability and SSI Benefits
Typically, the Social security disability lawyer who assists the claimant in presenting the SSD or SSI case to the administrative law judge, or ALJ, will not only have obtained additional medical evidence to support the case (many individuals may be unaware of this, but at the hearing level, the social security administration no longer makes any attempt to obtain medical evidence and this responsibility falls entirely on the claimant's shoulders and the shoulders of their lawyer if they have representation) but also qualified, supporting statements from the claimant's own doctors (known as the claimant's treating physicians).
The administrative law judge is the only judge in the social security appeal system that a claimant may see and interact with. However, the ALJ is not the only type of judge that may be involved in a claim.
If a case is denied by an administrative law judge at a hearing
If a case is denied by an administrative law judge at a disability hearing, a claimant has the right to appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council conducts a review that is called a Review of an Administrative Law Judge's Hearing Decision. The appeals council may choose to overturn a judge's decision, take no action whatsoever, or send the case back for a second hearing with the same judge (called a remand).
If the Appeals Council does not grant an action that is favorable to the claimant, however, the claimant may further appeal to federal district court (for example, federal district court of the state of new jersey).
This is a civil action usually initiated by the claimant's disability attorney and it does not involve any direct interaction between a judge and an attorney. Most of these civil actions will simply result in the prior decisions being affirmed; however, some claimants do see some benefit from a federal district court appeal.
Having said that, however, for most cases, the ALJ disability hearing (where the claimant and their disability attorney may appear in person before an administrative law judge at a hearing office) will be as far as their case goes. And very often, this is simply because ALJ hearings have a high approval rate as compared to other levels of the appeals system.
Because A) disability hearings are likely to be successful when the case is properly prepared and presented to the judge, and B) because hearings can take well over a year or more to get scheduled, claimants who are at the stage of having to make a formal request for a hearing should probably begin to consider disability representation.
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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