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Queens SSD lawsuit shines spotlight on administrative law judges

If your claim for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is denied, you still have a option in the form of a Social Security Disability appeal. In some states, you can have your file reviewed (reconsidered) by another Social Security Administration (SSA) employee - not the person who denied your original claim. If you live in a state without this option or if a second SSA employee also denied your claim, the next step is a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Administrative law judges (ALJ) handle hearings to resolve disputes between members of the public and government agencies such as the Social Security Administration. These judges are based in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). You will need to request an ALJ hearing within 60 days of the denial - otherwise you will have start again by filing a brand new claim.

Like everyone else, the ALJs who hear SSD appeals include some who don't do their jobs as well as they should. For example, five ALJs in the Queens, New York, ODAR have been the subject of a recent class action lawsuit. These judges have a track record of denying appeals at a much greater than average rate, according to data published by the SSA. For example, the denial rate in Queens was twice as high as the rate in neighboring Brooklyn. Moreover, they frequently trivialized claimants' disabilities and on occasion reduced them to tears.

The proposed settlement will allow thousands of SSD claimants to have their cases heard again - by different ALJs. The SSA has denied any wrongdoing. However, it will implement an anti-bias program and establish special monitoring for disability claims.

Who are ALJs? They are attorneys who practiced law for at least seven years before becoming judges and who passed a specific written test. This means that at least some ALJs - like those in Queens -- still act like lawyers and are advocates for the government, arguing against you. This makes it particularly important to have someone accompany you to the hearing - someone who knows how to argue back.

If your initial disability claim was denied, either in Queens or anywhere in the U.S., it's important to take the next step with the help of a knowledgeable advocate. Do what hundreds of thousands of people have done: Call Binder & Binder®, America's most successful disability advocates. Learn how they can assist with your hearing before an ALJ.

Source: New York Times, "Rejected Disability Claims in Queens May Be Reheard," by Mosi Secret, Jan. 11, 2013. 

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