Are Social Security Disability Appeals Getting Tougher?

Are Social Security Disability Appeals Getting Tougher?

A recent House Oversight Committee reports suggests that Social Security disability claimants may face a tougher road in obtaining approval for their claims in the future. The committee, led by Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, believes that judges hearing appeals from denials of claims are guilty of “gross incompetence” and of valuing “quantity over quality” by trying to clear out as many appeals as possible. Reform is needed, the committee suggests, so that administrative law judges (ALJs) who approve claims that should have been denied are removed from their positions.

A Brief Review of the Appeals Process

A large percentage of Social Security disability claims are initially denied by the administration. However, a claimant whose claim is denied may appeal that decision. There are four levels of review, including:

  • Reconsideration, in which your entire claim is reviewed by an individual who did not take part in the initial denial of your claim;
  • ALJ hearing, in which you appear before an administrative law judge and explain your case, why you believe you are disabled under the law, and why your claim should be granted;
  • Appeals Council, which reviews the ALJ’s decision and can correct an erroneous ALJ decision on its own, send your claim back to the ALJ for another hearing, or find that the ALJ’s decision was correct and affirm that decision; and
  • Federal courts, which can review the decision of the Appeals Council.

The House Oversight Committee’s complaints against some current ALJs is that, in an effort to “clear out” a backlog of appeals, some ALJs are approving claims that have been denied twice (once in the initial decision and again on reconsideration) without fully investigating the merits of the claim. The committee estimates that just one erroneous ALJ approval of a claim can cost up to $300,000 over the course of the claimant’s lifetime.

What Does This Mean for Social Security Disability Claimants?

For now, there have been no changes to the appeals process as a result of the committee’s report. If any action is taken, however, ALJs are likely going to be encouraged to more fully investigate claims before approving them. This can not only lead to an increase in the amount of time necessary for an ALJ to submit a written opinion approving or denying the claim, but it can lead to a decrease in the chances of approval. For disabled claimants who are in need of benefits in order to meet their day-to-day expenses, an increase in the time it takes for an appeal to be decided or a decrease in the likelihood of approval are both unwelcome news.

Social Security disability claimants are always encouraged to seek the assistance of an experienced Social Security disability attorney when applying for disability benefits. While claimants can apply for benefits without an attorney, claims are more likely to be approved if it is prepared and presented with the assistance of a professional. If you have applied or thinking of applying for disability benefits, we can help you get the benefits you deserve. Contact us for a free initial consultation at (843) 216-8860.