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Today, about 96% of working Americans pay into the U.S. Social Security system.
No one knows if or when he or she might become sick or disabled, consequently, disability insurance is an important protection. All working Americans pay for this insurance through their Social Security taxes (FICA). Retirement, sickness, death of a spouse, and consequent loss of income can be life-changing. After paying for many years into the Social Security System, Americans apply for retirement or disability or survivors benefits. What happens when the Government says they do not qualify?
Social Security Administrative Law Judges (SSA ALJs), who are independent adjudicators, and who act pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act and the Social Security Act to consider the evidence and apply the law, hear disputed cases. Americans are entitled to a due process hearing before an independent judge. They are entitled to present their greivances to the government and seek resolution. Administrative Law Judge decisions issued affect the lives of millions of Americans every year. The role of the SSA ALJ is to insure that the rights of the claimants are protected; that the trust fund is protected; and that the correct decision is reached in every case.
Social Security ALJs provide outstanding service to the American people. With approximately 1,500 ALJs in more than 160 hearing offices and hearing centers across the country, issuing decisions on more than 800,000 requests each year, the ALJ hearing process employs the largest administrative judiciary in the world. Each year, every SSA ALJ adjudicates on average more than 500 cases, thereby awarding benefits and committing substantial Federal funds, including both cash benefits and health insurance coverage. As experts in Social Security law and serving in one of the most important positions in government, SSA ALJs adjudicate cases with professionalism and issue decisions that comply with both the law and legally promulgated agency policy. The public expects and deserves no less.
A Proud History of Professional Integrity
Social Security Judges, who are Federal Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), are part of a long American tradition of judicial independence. The first administrative adjudicators were hearing officers from the Continental Army, who as far back as 1789 determined which soldiers were “disabled during the late war.” In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Administrative Procedure Act, which applies to virtually all executive agencies of the Federal government. The law requires ALJs to conduct fair, impartial and independent judicial proceedings, without interference from the agency that employs them. A decade later, Congress voted to add disability protection to Social Security. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed this important expansion of benefits into law in 1956. The addition of a disability program resulted in a large increase in the number of Federal administrative hearings.
To qualify for the position of Administrative Law Judge, an applicant must be an attorney, have at least seven years of experience, and pass a rigorous testing and interview process. In addition to judges who come from a background in private practice, many of the judges who hear Social Security cases today have had careers as judges, magistrates, hearing officers, legislators, and lawyers in Federal or state courts and agencies, or in other important public and private positions, before being appointed as an ALJ to hear Social Security cases.
“You really do need to know the law better than anyone else in that room when you’re conducting that hearing. That requires ongoing legal education, and this organization takes that responsibility seriously.” Judge Henry Wansker, ALJ