What’s an Administrative Law Judge?
An administrative law judge (ALJ) plays a critical role in the process for determining if your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim is approved or denied.
What is an ALJ?
Administrative law judges are appointed rather than elected, and as suggested by their name, specialize in administrative law. This means that they do not make decisions over criminal cases or handle lawsuits, but rather help adjudicate situations in which adherence to rules and regulations are the central issue.
In the case of the Social Security Administration’s ALJs, these men and women are employed by, and work for, the federal government and their work is focused on understanding disability law, regulations and related matters.
These specialized disability judges work for the Office of Hearing Operations (OHO), which is part of the Social Security Administration and has locations in every state so that you do not have to travel too far for a hearing.
Ultimately, the job of these particular ALJs is to make rulings on disability claims.
What does an ALJ Do?
An ALJ will evaluate your claim for disability benefits to determine whether or not you are disabled and entitled to ongoing benefits, and whether or not you are entitled to back pay.
Their job begins before your hearing. They will receive and review your entire Social Security file, also referred to as the exhibit file, before the hearing. This file contains the paperwork the judge will need to help determine whether or not you qualify for benefits, including your work history, medical records and reasons for the original denial of your benefits.
During the hearing, the ALJ will take into consideration new information that is presented by our advocate on your behalf. The judge will ask you, the applicant, questions about your disability and the ways in which it directly affects your ability to work. They will also question any expert witnesses, such as medical professionals and vocational experts.
The vocational expert will be questioned to determine whether or not your disability does or does not limit your ability to sustain work. This expert will discuss what jobs he or she believes you can perform considering your limitations. The testimony of a vocational expert’s testimony can play a critical role in your disability hearing.
Based on the medical records provided and the limitations specified, the vocational expert may indicate that there are no jobs you can perform, or they may find examples of different jobs that exist in the national economy that you could perform. Thus, a vocational expert’s testimony can often either make or break a disability case.
Using a series of questions, which are called hypotheticals, your advocate and the judge will gather the evidence needed to determine if you do meet the requirements set forth to be determined disabled per the SSA guidelines.
The ALJ will place significant emphasis on the testimony of both the medical and vocational experts. They will also allow your advocate to present new medical evidence that has developed since the time of your original application and diagnosis. This quite often has a profound influence on the decision of the ALJ.
When You Might Encounter an ALJ?
You could encounter an ALJ a few different times during your appeals process. The first time you encounter an administrative law judge will be during the initial hearing of the appeals process. This occurs after the reconsideration appeal is denied.
After the ALJ hearing, if your appeal was denied by the ALJ, we will continue with the appeals process and proceed to present your claim to the Social Security Appeals Council. This council might determine that your file must be reviewed by another ALJ. This is the second time you might encounter these disability judges.
Are They Impartial?
Most ALJs are very fair-minded and take the cases they handle incredibly seriously and treat them appropriately. It has been reported that some ALJs may be more difficult than others; but fortunately, in our experience these are not the majority, and they need not have the final say in whether or not you receive SSDI/SSI disability benefits.
You cannot guarantee which type of judge will be presiding over your claim, so our advocacy professionals who specialize in disability benefits will help you prepare for the hearing, manage all the relevant paperwork, and work with you at the hearing to ensure that you have the best chance for approval.