It’s no secret that Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants often wait months to get a decision on their claims, only to get denied. Then, they usually embark on what can turn into a years-long odyssey to gain approval through a series of appeals that usually ends with a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). In rare cases, claims may proceed all the way to a fourth layer of the appeals process, via an Appeals Council Review (ACR).

The growing backlog of SSDI cases pending (and the fact that thousands of disabled people die each year waiting for their hearings) has created some understandably bad press for the agency. That may be what has prompted the Social Security Administration (SSA) to think about allowing administrative appeal judges (AAJs) to handle hearings instead of just ACRs.

This could be a bigger problem for potential claimants than ever. The SSA maintains that ALJs and AAJs have essentially the same skill sets — but experts dispute that notion. For one thing, ALJs typically have regular interactions with real people and their representatives, while AAJs typically only read prepared documents and review cases. They may be ill-equipped to ask claimants the right questions or take in critical testimony.

Further, AAJs are appointed employees of the government, while ALJs are hired through an independent process. That makes AAJs potentially more conscious of political pressures and governmental influence — which has historically been slanted against disabled claimants.

No, more than ever before, it’s important to present your best possible case for benefits to the SSA at every stage of your claim. If you’ve been denied SSDI benefits, an experienced attorney may be able to help.

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