Are Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) Fair?

by Editorial Board on October 19, 2010 · 0 comments

in Winning Disability Benefits,Questions & Answers,Social Security Hearings,Why People Are Denied

Are ALJs Pressured Into Quotas or Other Non Claimant Friendly Goals?

Approximately 64 percent of applicants for disability benefits have their initial application denied. To pursue their claim, applicants who have been denied must present their case to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at a disability hearing. As of October 2009, 722,822 people in the United States were awaiting disability hearings; some of these people will continue to wait for at least two years before they receive a hearing. With such a tremendous backlog of cases, it is often alleged that Social Security Administrative Law Judges are pressured into quotas or other non claimant friendly goals in order to hear all the cases awaiting decisions.

There is some evidence that this is the case. In just the two years between 2005 and 2007, ALJs saw an increase of 13% in the number of dispositions they were issued. The Social Security Administration’s most recent study on the disability claim process indicated that a reasonable caseload for ALJs should average 480 dispositions per year; ALJs are instead averaging over 500. An interesting result of this increased workload is that ALJs who do more than 600 dispositions in a year have a much higher rate of claim payment than those who see fewer cases. On the surface, this seems like an advantage for the claimant, who of course wishes to see his claim paid. Unfortunately, when claims get paid that shouldn’t be, it contributes to the overtaxing of the ALJs by adding cessation claims to their caseload.

Initiatives intended to speed up the process are often not beneficial to the claimant. Sometimes a claimant file is not prepared for the hearing and is instead presented to the claimant in an unorganized fashion, with duplicate pages and evidence not placed in any kind of order. While this may get the case to hearing more quickly, it makes it much more difficult for those involved to accurately evaluate the claim. Another shortcut, termed the “rocket docket,” works by calling a large number of unrepresented claimants to appear at once. Those who do appear are simply told that their hearing will be held soon; if a claimant fails to appear, his claim is dismissed without a hearing. This places an additional burden on the claimant by requiring at least one extra trip to the hearing office, and discriminates against those who did not hire an advocate to help you.

Although rules do not allow for the use of dispositional quotas, many ALJs feel as though the Social Security Administration is pressuring them to decide cases quickly, without adequate time to research the case. Fortunately, ALJs widely recognize this as a problem, and many are actively searching for better ways to address the extreme backlog of cases awaiting a disability hearing.

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