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AALJ Believes Changes are Needed to Social Security Disability Hearings

Here are some interesting aspects of SSA Disability Hearings that AALJ believes Should be Changed or Noted:

1.  Reporting of unsafe or criminal activity.  SSA has directed that the federal Privacy Act prevents employees including ALJ's reporting of crimes such as child abuse to state agencies, in the same vein it precludes reporting a claimant who continues to operate a motor vehicle despite seizures to the state driver's license agency.

2.  Closing the Record.  The administrative record in a claim for disability never closes until the result is accepted by the claimant or a final agency decision is issued by the Commissioner.   A claimant can continue to add documents and other information at any point in the hearing process, and the ALJ has to consider the information.  This means that after the hearing is closed the claimant may submit new information - information that was available sometimes months ago or even years ago - and it must be considered.  If the ALJ issues a decision, the claimant can still submit old information, and the case will be remanded to the ALJ for consideration.  Thus the case is continuously cycled back and forth between the hearing office and the appeals council until the claimant gets a result he considers in accordance with all the evidence.  This process substantially contributes to the backlog of pending cases.

3.  Taxpayers are Not Represented at Hearings.  SSA does not provide a government representative to attend hearings.  Thus the claimant is usually represented by a lawyer, and there is no advocate for the government.  The ALJ acts as an impartial adjudicator and inquires about the claimant's disability.  However the  ALJ is not an advocate.  Disability claims are worth between $250,000 and $300,000, and the numbers of requests are increasing rapidly.    Given that SSA believes the claimant's representatives have no duty to advise it of facts negative to the claimant qualifying for disability, there is virtually no adversarial review of facts in a hearing to determine disability. 

4.  Receiving Unemployment.  SSA says you can receive disability for the same time period when you received (are receiving) unemployment.  Receipt of unemployment is but one factor to be taken into account in determining disability.  What about states where persons receiving unemployment have to certify they are ready and able to work?  SSA does not report receipt of benefits to the state unemployment agencies.

5.  SSA has an extensive online library of reference materials reciting the complex regulations governing disability:

Social Security Program Rules Home Page

Current Program Rules

Our current program rules include the law; regulations; Commissioner rulings; and, employee operating instructions.

 

The Law

Compilation of Social Security Laws --  Volume I contains the full text of the Social Security Act, as amended, and selected provisions of the Internal Revenue Code  (Order a hardcopy?)

Volume II of the Compilation -- Contains provisions of the Internal Revenue Code and other public laws and statutes cited in, and affecting administration of, the Social Security Act.

Legislation --  Recent legislation affecting Social Security benefits

 

The Regulations

Code of Federal Regulations for Social Security --  Revised as of April 1, 2011 (Order a hardcopy?)

How does SSA have the authority to issue regulations?

All Social Security documents published in the Federal Register can be found by accessing the Federal eRulemaking web portal. On the homepage, select the "Advanced Search" link, and the select “Social Security Administration” from the agency drop-down menu.

SSI Law and Regulations Finder -- Specific references to Supplemental Security Income law and regulations

 

The Rulings

Complete Social Security Rulings and Acquiescence Rulings -- Includes rulings for 1960 to date

What is a Social Security Ruling (SSR)?

What is an Acquiescence Ruling (AR)?

Recent Social Security Rulings and Acquiescence Rulings

 

Employee Operating  Instructions

Program Operations Manual System (POMS) --  Instructions used by employees and agents of SSA to carry out the law, regulations, and rulings

Recent changes to the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) --  Recent updates that have been incorporated into the Program Operations Manual System (POMS). The individual transmittals include a Background and a Summary of Changes

Emergency Messages --  Emergency changes to operations instructions for SSA employees

Chief Judge Bulletins --  Chief Administrative Law Judge bulletins provide information to SSA employees involved in the hearings process. They may include such things as workload changes, system enhancements, or serve as notification of imminent or recently-approved revisions in the HALLEX (Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law Manual). They may also provide reminder items on a variety of topics.

Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) Manual --  Instructions used by employees of SSA's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in processing and adjudicating claims at the hearing, Appeals Council review, and civil actions levels of appeal

 

Handbook

Social Security Handbook

 

Program Home Pages

Disability Supplemental Security Income

 
Other Sources For Program Rules Information

On our Program Rules Resources page, we list the various handbooks we have developed for use by the public.