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ALJs and Social Security Disability Denials

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The approval rate for Social Security Disability claims has declined and continues to decline, a fact that seldom appears in all the misinformation about this critical safety net. The trend is illustrated by the story of a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, man with Huntington's disease, who was turned down several times before filing an appeal in federal court.

Huntington's disease is a progressive neurological impairment that results in involuntary movement, confusion and dementia. It often leads to premature death. His claim was denied at the initial claim level and again at the administrative law judge level. It was finally approved after the claimant filed a lawsuit in federal court.

At least in Pennsylvania, where this man lives, administrative law judges are often former employees of the Social Security Administration. They hear cases for the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. As they deny more and more SSD claims, the disabled are forced to file lawsuits in federal court, adding to the time it takes to obtain SSD benefits.

This increase is borne out by the numbers. In 2010 there were 113 appeals filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Compare this to 2012, only two years later, when 204 appeals were filed.

Some observers and attorneys believe that the increase in denials by administrative law judges could be a result of the publicity SSD has been receiving. Judges, say these experts, may be influenced by negative opinions about Social Security Disability claimants. Again, the numbers are illustrative: ALJs approved 64 percent of cases referred to them in the Middle District of Pennsylvania in 2010. In contrast, they approved only 47 percent in 2013.

ALJs may also be influenced by Social Security's program of posting ALJ approval rates on its website. Not wishing to appear too lenient, some judges may bend over backwards to appear too strict.

If your application for SSD benefits was denied and you need to file an appeal, do what many others have done: Call Binder & Binder®, America's most successful Social Security Disability advocates. Tell them your story and learn how they can help you.

Source: Citizens, "Social Security Disability approvals decline," December 2, 2013.

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