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"New Approach" to Social Security Disability Claims

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

While I was on vacation last week, New York disability attorneys had a lot of interesting disability law developments to digest. I will try to catch everyone up on the most important developments over the course of the week, but I will start with the most important: the New Social Security Approach to Disability Determination proposed last week by Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart. Bottom Line ‚Äì it‚Äôs generally BAD for claimants, and it’s hidden agenda is to decrease the odds that disability claimants will win their Social Security claims.
Probably the most significant change for disability clients and their attorneys is the elimination of Appeals Council review of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions. While most Social Security judges are fair and competent, a few are neither. Some regional hearing offices are packed with bad judges. They start out with an agenda to deny the claim, and then proceed to have staff attorneys write their legally unsupportable decisions. Because all ALJ’s are members of a powerful union, it is almost impossible to rid Social Security of a bad judge. They are consistently reversed by the current Appeals Council.
And that‚Äôs the rub – eliminate Appeals Council review, and claimants will have to march into Federal District Court to reverse the lousy judges. Since many Social Security attorneys and non-attorney representatives are unwilling to take disability claims to federal court for a myriad of legal (non-attorneys can’t) and financial reasons (filing fees), this will essentially deny many claimants a chance to overturn lousy ALJ decisions.
For lawyers who have busy and aggressive federal court disability practices, we will be quite busy. But in the big picture, not every unfairly denied claimant will come see attorneys like Turley, Redmond & Rosasco. For those unfortunate many, the Appeals Council served as a much needed safety net. It allowed deserving claimants to appeal their decisions at no cost simply by filling out a one page form. Now, they will have to proceed to the costly and complex federal court arena. I predict that the federal courts will quickly get bogged down with disability claims, leading to more delay and uncertain outcomes. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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