Tag Archives: administrative law judge

Social Security Disability Denied? Don't Give Up Hope. (Part 2)

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Last week we told you about the denial of John’s claim for Social Security Disability. This week we present the results of John’s appeal. 

Unfortunately, John’s run of bad luck with the Social Security Administration continued, and the Appeals Council affirmed the judge’s decision. The only good thing about this decision was that it came relatively quickly, allowing us to move on to the next step in the process. With the Appeals Council denial, there were two options.  John could file a new application and begin the process again, which would mean forfeiting all the retroactive benefits that he would otherwise have been entitled to, or we could file a lawsuit in Federal court. 

The only good thing about this decision was that it came relatively quickly, allowing us to move on to the next step in the process.

I selectively file these lawsuits because of the lengthy process and the standard of proof required. After discussing his options, John and I decided to move forward with the lawsuit. After a lawsuit is filed, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) assigned to the case contacts me to work out a schedule for filing our briefs and for oral arguments in front of the judge.

When I heard from the AUSA this time, it wasn’t to set up a briefing schedule. She had reviewed the case file and realized that the judge’s decision was wrong and couldn’t be defended. She was the first person who I felt had really taken the time to review the case and realize that John was truly disabled. She prepared an order for the judge to sign sending the case back to Social Security for a new hearing and a new decision.

 The same judge who had issued John’s original unfavorable decision was again assigned to the case. I was concerned that John would be in for another denial, but the judge had clearly changed his mind about John. After a brief hearing, the judge stated on the record that he would be issuing a fully favorable decision. John received the decision granting him benefits two weeks later. John and his family were awarded all of the benefits that they were entitled to, because I believed in his case and didn’t give up.

Even if you get turned down the first time, or you get an unfavorable decision from a judge, don’t give up.

Even if you get turned down the first time, or you get an unfavorable decision from a judge, don’t give up. If John had decided to file a new application, he may have eventually been awarded some benefits, but he wouldn’t have received all the retroactive benefits to which he was entitled. Having an attorney who believes in you and will work hard to get you the benefits you deserve is very important to the success of your case.  If you would like our assistance with your claim, please contact us today.

Social Security Disability Denied? Don't Give Up Hope. (Part 1)

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

I’ve handled many Social Security disability cases over the course of my career, and helping people obtain the benefits they deserve is extremely gratifying. Today, I want to tell you about one of my clients who was eventually awarded Social Security disability benefits after a long fight.

This man – I’ll call him John – was injured at work. He was bringing a wheelbarrow loaded with materials up a flight of stairs when he slipped and fell down the stairs. He sustained significant back and shoulder injuries and was taken to the hospital that day. When I met with him, he had been out of work for several months and wanted to get back to work, but was unable to do so. I filed his application and waited for Social Security’s initial decision.

Because John was 48 years old when he was injured, I had to prove that he couldn’t do any type of work, not just the construction work he had done since he graduated from high school. John’s case was denied initially, as most cases are. I filed a request for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and started to develop John’s case.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident. He started treatment with a psychiatrist and a psychologist. All conditions count in a Social Security disability benefits case, both physical and emotional. 

As his hearing date approached, I obtained updated medical records from all of John’s doctors and obtained supportive opinions from them as well.  Before the hearing, I prepared John for the questions he was likely to face.  Going into the hearing, I felt confident that John would get the benefits he deserved.  However, at the hearing, the ALJ did not seem to feel the case was as strong as I did. I told John to prepare for a denial from the judge.

While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors…

Sure enough, the judge denied John’s claim. While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors, from improperly evaluating the credibility of John’s statements, to giving improper weight to the opinions of his treating doctors. I met with John to review the decision and talk about our options.  Given the number of errors contained in the judge’s decision and the strength of John’s case, we decided to file an appeal with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council, located in Falls Church, Virginia, is charged with reviewing appeals from individuals who disagree with the decision made by the judge at their hearing.

The Appeals Council review process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months, and only about 20 percent of appeals are successful.  Despite these odds, I felt good about John’s chances due to the support of his treating physicians and the multiple errors made by the judge. I prepared a comprehensive legal brief detailing all of the judge’s errors and sent it to the Appeals Council for review. When I sent the appeal, I felt that the Appeals Council would recognize that the judge had issued a flawed decision and vacate it.  When a judge’s decision is vacated, the case is sent back for a new hearing and a new decision. 

In next week’s post we’ll reveal the outcome of John’s case.

New Social Security Rules Make It Harder To Present Your Case

Today’s post comes from guest author Ryan Benharris from Deborah G. Kohl Law Offices.

In December, 2010, the Social Security Administration (SSA) implemented a set of rules put in place to enable more effective case review. One of the major changes was that Applicants will no longer know who their Administrative Law Judge is prior to their scheduled hearing. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that these judges seem more concerned with the speed of case processing than on whether the applicants actually deserve benefits. WSJ also indicated that some judges were approving more than 85% of the cases they heard in what was allegedly an effort to have the cases resolved more quickly. Unfortunately, for applicants, this change in practice has made their cases much harder to litigate. Many Administrative Law Judges have different styles of practice in how their cases are heard. An attorney may present information in a different style depending on the judge. The importance of an applicant being represented by an attorney before the Social Security Administration has never been clearer. Since there is no way to know who the Administrative Law Judge is prior to the hearing, it is absolutely imperative that every case prepared in accordance to all rules governing how cases are tried before the court. If even the slightest detail is overlooked, it may prevent an applicant from being allowed to present evidence that could win his or her case.