If you’re reading this, chances are you already know that applying for Social Security disability benefits can be a long, grueling process. The vast majority of claims are denied in the initial stages, with over 70% being turned down initially.
Most people who are granted Social Security disability benefits are approved for benefits at some stage of the appeals process. Of these, the overwhelming majority have their benefits approved during their disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Part of the reason for this is that Administrative Law Judges have a great deal more autonomy and ability to use their own judgment when making decisions regarding whether or not to award Social Security disability benefits than other SSA representatives do. The Administrative Law Judge is the one person in the SSA system that you can look directly in the eye and make your case regarding why you should be entitled to benefits. Other decision makers in the SSA system are unlikely to ever see you face to face. To them, you are just another name and another file on the desk.
It’s not that SSA representatives don’t want to be helpful. Most of them enter their careers with high hopes of helping disabled people. However, no matter how well intentioned they may be, they are bound by stringent guidelines regarding what they can and cannot approve for Social Security disability benefits. If you don’t meet one of the listings in their Blue Book and aren’t able to conclusively prove that your condition is equivalent to a Blue Book listing, they can’t award your benefits.
Across the country, Administrative Law Judges only turn down about 30% of the cases they hear. While there are a few ALJs whose numbers vary considerably in one direction or the other, the vast majority of Administrative Law Judges are within a few percentage points of the national averages.
With ALJs who vary considerably coming under increasing scrutiny (ALJs have been investigated for turning down too many claims AND approving too many in recent months), it is likely that the numbers will become even more predictable.
What this means if you are in the claims and appeals process for Social Security disability benefits is that you should not give up if your claim is denied. At the very least, get yourself an experienced Social Security disability lawyer and make it a point to make a strong case at your hearing.
Of course, since your hearing before an Administrative Law Judge represents your best chance for an approval, it behooves you to be well prepared before you stand before the ALJ. Most claimants would be well advised to have a Social Security disability lawyer or other professional Social Security disability representative with them during their hearing date. The sooner you begin working with a qualified disability representative, the better they will be able to put your case together to present to the ALJ and the more likely you are to start collecting SSDI, SSI and/or other Social Security disability benefits.