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New SSD Appeals Change Makes Advocates Wary

It's no secret that the Social Security Administration faces a tremendous backlog of disability claims to evaluate and process. SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle told Huffington Post that the agency is "in the midst of a public service crisis."

Perhaps even more worrisome, however, is what reporters learned the agency is doing to improve efficiency. Up until recently, appealed claims that are remanded for reconsideration were handed back down to an administrative law judge. Now, the SSA is having some of those same cases handed to administrative appeals judges. The change may look minute, but could have negative ramifications for claimants.

That's because administrative appeals judges are not hired or overseen by the same standards as administrative law judges. Administrative law judges are shielded from institutional pressures, performance reviews, and bonus evaluations. Administrative appeals judges are not, calling their impartiality into question.

"We're supportive of the agency taking steps with the resources they have to address the number of people waiting," said Lisa Ekman, NOSSCR's director of government affairs. "But we’re also very concerned about claimants getting a hearing in front of an administrative law judge that has qualified judicial independence as required by the Administrative Procedure Act."

The Association of Administrative Law Judges doesn't even believe the new policy is legal. "They have launched an initiative that is not in the best interest of the American public," said association president Marilyn Zahm. "What the Social Security Administration plans to do now is to divert subsets of cases from hearings before ALJs to hearings before their own handpicked people."

"Unacceptable Service"

Reportedly, the remanded cases that will be shunted away from administrative law judges involve SSD claimants who have returned to work after receiving benefits. It's estimated that there are roughly 10,000 of these cases—a third of the approximated 30,000 cases that are flagged for reconsideration in federal court.

While the new policy is controversial, everyone agrees that something must be done for 1.1 million people waiting for a decision on their SSD claim. "For some people this results in a wait of over 17 months to receive a hearing decision," wrote Mark Hinkle, "which we concede is unacceptable service."

If you believe you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, ensuring that your claim avoids the appeals process has never been more important. Contact the experienced Dallas SSDI attorneys at Coats & Todd to best prepare your claim and make sure that it stands the very best chance of yielding the benefits you deserve.

Start exploring your options today with us today. Use our online form to request a free case evaluation.