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Administrative law judges and their role in SSD claims process

The Social Security disability process is a legal realm all its own. Though for many the legal process conjures images of robed judges and juries, the SSD benefits claims process is different. Primarily because Social Security hearings are considered administrative in nature, many of the elements seen in criminal and civil matters are irrelevant.

For example, though the Social Security disability claims process has judges who adjudicate claims, these judges are considered administrative law judges who hold hearings de novo and render judgments on appeals. These more than 1,300 judges hear more than 700,000 cases a year, which means that their time is limited. What does this mean for those appealing an initial claims denial? It means that they need to know administrative law and how to powerful put forth their claim in a concise way.

In addition to these administrative law judges, the Social Security Administration has an Office of Appellate Operations, which is tasked with the last level of claims review before they are appealed to the federal court system. This Office consists of 68 administrative law judges who review approximately 165,000 hearing decisions annually that have been appealed. They are also tasked with processing thousands of cases for review by the federal courts.

By knowing the appellate process, claimants can better strategize their own appeal. They can also work with an experienced attorney who knows the system and how to utilize the law to strengthen a claim. In the end, this convoluted and oftentimes lengthy process is intended to provide compensation to those who meet federal requirements. Claimants should keep their eye on this endgame, and so should their attorney, should they choose to proceed with one.

Source: Social Security Administration, "Hearing and Appeals," accessed on July 3, 2016

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