It’s the worst kind of injustice. You played by the rules, appealed your denial, and took your case all the way to an administrative law judge. His decision was the same one you’ve been hearing for months: you’re not going to receive Social Security disability benefits.

Mistakes Judges Make at a Social Security Disability Hearing

You should know that judges are not infallible when it comes to ruling on a Social Security case. There are plenty of errors they can make, especially if they fail to properly consider all of the evidence. Here are just a few ways valid claims may be denied by an administrative law judge (ALJ):

  • Failure to consider treatment side effects. Some Social Security claimants have a condition that is only manageable through courses of treatment that further disable them. Your ALJ must consider the dosage, effectiveness, frequency, and side effects of all of your medications and treatments when making a disability decision.
  • Discounted opinions. Your ALJ must give proper weight to the observations of physicians and psychologists who have treated you, but also from other opinions from your nurses, physicians' assistants, physical therapist, and any other professional who has intimate knowledge of your condition. Your treating sources may have varying opinions on the extent and severity of your disability, so the judge must properly weigh all testimony in her decision.
  • Omission of important facts. In some cases, an ALJ will give weight to only one half of a story, but not the other. For example, if you need a wheelchair and transportation to attend your grandson’s soccer games, your judge may take this to mean that you regularly attend sporting events. While this is true, it is far from accurate, and does not give a full picture of your disability.
  • Missing medical evidence. Some judges will fail to grant benefits simply because there is not enough evidence to issue a decision. However, this is not a valid reason for denying benefits. While you should provide as much proof of your condition as possible, the ALJ in your case has the duty to develop the evidence in your case. 
  • Unclear determination. An ALJ must give you a specific reason that you did not qualify for benefits. Simply saying that you have been denied or that you are able to work is not sufficient grounds for denial. Your determination must say why you have been found not disabled—or if you are found disabled, why you are not eligible for benefits.

What to Do After You Have Received a Disability Denial at a Hearing

If you were denied benefits in a disability hearing, you should have a Social Security attorney examine the decision for legal or procedural mistakes. A hearing is the best time to present your case you have a better chance of winning at hearing than to be looking for grounds to appeal. Only twenty percent of the cases that go to the appeals council get sent back for a further hearing.We can tell you if you have grounds to appeal the decision, and even represent you when your case is sent to the Appeals Council.The best advice we can give you is to hire an attorney to represent you at the hearing. Email us at [email protected]  or call us at(402) 933-5405.


Timothy J. Cuddigan (Founder - Retired)
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Omaha Social Security and Veterans Disability Lawyer With Over 40 Years Experience