Were Your Benefits Denied by a Judge? What to Consider Before the Appeals Council

It can be extremely disheartening to file an appeal for Social Security benefits, only to be denied a by Administrative Law Judge. However, the denial of your hearing does not necessarily mean that you are not eligible for benefits. In fact, it could simply mean that the judge did not give proper consideration to your case before issuing his decision. However, it is important to remember that only twenty percent of appeals at the Appeals Council are successful. Filing a new application may be quicker than an appeal if you still have insured status. It is important to consult with an attorney to make the decision that is best for your case.

How to Get a New Social Security Disability Hearing After an Administrative Law Judge Denied Your Appeal

If your appeal was rejected by an administrative law judge (ALJ), you should examine the judge’s decision carefully before you take the case to the Appeals Council. The ALJ is required to provide you with a reasonable amount of detail as to why he made his decision; if you discover an error, you may be able to request that the Appeals Council grant you a new hearing.

Here are a few valid reasons the Appeals Council may grant you a new hearing:

  • Disregarding a treating physician's opinion. An ALJ is required to explain in his decisions which medical opinions were considered in your case, and which opinions were used as key factors in your case. If this information is missing or incomplete, you have a good chance at obtaining another hearing. For example, if one of your doctors completed your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form and outlined your work restrictions—but these were not mentioned by your ALJ—the judge may not have fully considered the extent of your disability.
  • Omissions in expert testimony. Part of a disability hearing involves the witness testimony of a vocational expert (VE), someone who can offer reliable information on the kind of work that you do and potential limitations due to injury. A judge may ask the VE to give an opinion on how someone like you may perform certain work duties, such as lifting heavy loads or standing for several hours. However, it is common for ALJs only to ask a handful of questions, and the hypothetical worker may not accurately represent the applicant. 
  • Failure to judge the effect of impairment(s). As Social Security only grants disability payments for severe injury, judges may be tempted to rule on your case based on your serious condition alone. However, many applicants suffer from multiple conditions, and each will play a unique role in his ability to work. While a severe disability may require you to take the bus to work every day, an anxiety disorder (such as PTSD) can make taking public transportation difficult or even impossible, further hindering your ability to work.

These are just a few examples of how applicants may be able to remand their cases to the Appeals Council. To find out if your ALJ was not thorough in her assessment, click the contact link on this page to order our free guide, 5 Deadly Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Social Security Disability Case.

 

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska