Social Security Administrative Law Judges Pressured to Approve SSD Appeals

Recent reports have the Social Security Disability (SSD) Trust Fund going broke by 2016. A major factor behind this depletion of funds is the increase in SSD recipients. In 2003, 7.6 million disabled workers, spouses and children received SSD benefits. That figure is now close to 11 million. The House of Representatives is looking into this large increase and the 2016 deadline. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee interviewed Social Security Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) about the SSD claims process backlog.

The Duration of the SSD Process

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), it takes approximately three to five months to process an initial claim. If the claim is denied, the applicant has 60 days to appeal for a Reconsideration. The Reconsideration takes about three to four months to process. If the Reconsideration is denied, then the applicant has 60 days to appeal to an ALJ (administrative law judge). It takes approximately 12 to 18 months to schedule an in-person ALJ hearing. The SSA is trying to streamline the process by using video conferencing between remote locations, which takes less time to schedule than an in-person hearing. Just to get to an in-person ALJ hearing it takes 2 to 2-and-a-half years. Out of all the SSD applications, only about 35 percent are granted at the initial application level. Of the 65 percent denied at the initial application level, about 10 percent of those are granted at the Reconsideration level.

Administrative Law Judge Appeals

At the ALJ level, many applicants are granted SSD benefits. Current and former SSA ALJs told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the SSA pushes ALJs to award benefits to get applicants out of the appeals backlog. Deputy Social Security Commission Glenn Sklar said to the House committee that “the average processing time for a hearing [in 2007] was 512 days. [In 2013], it is 375 days.”

With the increase in applications and the decrease in decision time, ALJs say that they are being pushed to approve applications to get them off the docket. There is no specific order to ALJs to approve SSD appeals. The system is described as having “little incentive to deny claims by lots of pressure to approve them. It requires more documentation to deny a claim than to approve one. … Also, rejected claims can be appealed while approved claims are not.”

The judges testified that reviewing the entire medical file is discouraged in order to shotern review times. “The union representing [ALJs] said judges are required to decide 500 to 700 cases a year in an effort to reduce the hearings backlog. … The [SSA] denied there is a case quota for judges and said the standard is a productivity goal.”

According to the SSA, there were over 1,169,000 SSD applications in 1998. By 2012, that number had more than doubled to over 2,820,000 applications. With that large increase in applications, in addition to SSA staff cuts, it is clear to see where the backlog came from. In order to keep your case moving and make sure all your paperwork is in order, it would be extremely prudent to work with our experienced SSD attorneys.

Social Security law is complex; at Hoffman, Larin and Agnetti, PA we offer a free consultation so that you can learn your rights. There are no fees for representation before the Social Security Administration in disability claims, unless we win. We have offices throughout south Florida, in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties for your convenience.