What is clear from the current state of the Social Security Administration is that if you or a loved one is applying for Security Disability Benefits you need to hire a law firm that handles all level of Social Security claims in your SSD process.
The Process of Applying for SSD Benefits
The majority of cases in the SSD process go through three levels: application, reconsideration, and hearing. One of the saddest truths about Social Security Disability is that the outcome of a case often depends on the judge your case is assigned to for Hearing.
The Judges that decide Social Security Disability Hearings are called Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”). The national average for approval at a hearing is currently 45%, but individual ALJ’s approval ratings vary significantly. Some ALJ’s approve 70% of Social Security Benefits claims they hear. In contrast, some ALJ’s only approve 27% of Social Security Benefits claims they hear. As you can see the national average of 45% is somewhat deceiving because there is so little consistency between the ALJ’s approval ratings.
Individuals applying need to plan for the worst and hope for the best. You cannot ask for a new ALJ if you get one who has a low approval rating, so you must plan for the worst. The most significant decision you will make once you decide to apply is what firm you choose to assist you in your case.
A typical case involves an application and a denial, followed by reconsideration and a denial. Then after two or more years of waiting for an applicant gets to go before an ALJ, where the likelihood of success depends on the judge whom the applicant is randomly assigned.
Denials are Common for Social Security Applicants in the SSD Process
In the CBS New Article, “Disability backlog tops 1M; thousands die on waitlist”, it is stated “Too often at hearing cases are denied again even after years of waiting. I thought this was a great point, but there was an important detail left out. Many firms do not handle cases beyond a loss at the hearing, even though “most people who complete the appeals process will eventually win benefits”. This means that if an applicant is denied at his hearing, he will need to find a lawyer who can take an appeal after his original lawyer has lost his case at the hearing.
Finding a lawyer to take an appeal after another attorney or non-attorney representative has lost a case is a daunting task. Most lawyers do not want to take cases that another lawyer lost for several reasons.
One reason why an attorney may not want to take an applicant’s appeal is that the appeals process is time-consuming and labor-intensive for attorneys and clients. (See previous blog post on How Long Do Social Security Disability Appeals Take?). There are two possible levels of an appeal. The first is the Social Security Appeals Council. At this level, your attorney will write a short argument regarding why the case was incorrectly decided. This will likely result in a denial because the Appeals Council has a very low approval rating. In rare cases, the Appeal Council will remand, or send the case back to the same ALJ that had previously denied the case for rehearing.This process can take over a year.
If the case is denied by the Appeals Council, an applicant can file in the Federal District Court. This process is, even more, labor-intensive than filing a case at the Appeal Council. When a case is filed in the Federal District Court the case will be heard for the first time by a judge that is not employed by the SSA. At the Federal District Court level, an applicant’s attorney will write a long and complex argument explaining why the ALJ decided that the case at the hearing level made the wrong decision. If an applicant’s attorney is successful the Federal Court Judge will remand, or send the case back to the ALJ for rehearing. Unfortunately, an applicant cannot request a new ALJ.
Another reason why attorneys do not like to take cases other attorneys have lost at the hearing level is that they may be required to split their fee with the attorney who previously lost the case. Appeals are time-consuming for attorneys and if they are only going to get paid half the fee they may not want to appeal because they will make very little money for a lot of work.
At the end of the day, it is imperative that if you are applying for Social Security Disability Benefits that you hire a firm that handles all levels of Social Security Disability claims including application, reconsideration, hearing, appeals to the appeals council and appeals to the Federal District Courts. By hiring a firm that only handles the stages of application and reconsideration hearings an applicant is taking a risk that he will never obtain benefits even if he deserves them. Some firms do not handle appeals which means they will not assist an applicant after his hearing. When this happens, an applicant will be on his own to find an attorney to handle his appeal and this can be a difficult task. All applicants for SSD Benefits should plan for the worst by hiring an attorney who handles appeals at all levels.
Are you looking to apply for Social Security Disability Benefits or has your application been denied? Consider the Good Law Group for your legal representation.