Monday, September 15, 2008

How many are Approved at a Social Security Disability Hearing?

Claims for disability that are approved can be neatly grouped into two groups: those applications that were approved at the actual application, or initial claim, level and those applications that were later approved on appeal.

How many individuals will be approved initially and, thus, be spared having to go through the disability appeal process? Roughly thirty percent (though this does vary widely depending on one's state of residence). The remainder who are denied disability benefits will be faced with the choice of giving up entirely, or appealing.

Typically, of course, those who decide to appeal are making a far wiser choice. While it is likely that their first appeal (the request for reconsideration) will denied (more than eighty percent of these first appeals are), the chances of approval rise considerably at the second appeal level. That appeal is known as a request for hearing before an administrative law judge and it is exactly what its name implies.

Disability hearings are held at official social security hearing offices or at approved satellite locations. They are conducted by federally appointed administrative law judges who specialize in making decisions on social security disability and SSI claims.

How do these judges make their decisions? In essence, they decide the outcome of disability claims in the same way that disability examiners render decisions at the first two steps of the system (initial claim and reconsideration). That is, they review the claimant's work history (to determine the skills acquired by an individual, the requirements of their past jobs, and whether or not those skills may transfer to other jobs) and the claimant's medical history (to determine the individual's current and projected functionality).

The difference between the decisions made by judges and the decisions made by disability examiners is this: disability claimants can take an active role in the process at a hearing. As opposed to an initial disability application or a reconsideration, where a claimant is reduced to merely being a file in a disability claim examiner's filing cabinet, at a hearing a claimant can respond to questions and provide direct information to A) the judge holding the hearing, B), a vocational expert who may be present at the hearing, and C) the claimant's social security disability attorney.

This difference, and the fact that disability representation can be present during the decision process, makes the hearing level different, even in a qualitative sense. And by that I simply mean this: a significantly higher percentage of cases are won at the hearing level than at any other level of the system.

How many are Approved at a Social Security Disability Hearing? According to the House Ways and Means Committee subcommitte on Social Security "Approximately two-thirds of those who appeal to the ALJ level are awarded benefits".

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