A person seeking Social Security Disability(which we refer to this article as a "claimant") has several opportunities for appeal. After an initial denial, a claimant can request reconsideration. If reconsideration is denied, then the claimant can seek a hearing. Even if an Administrative Law Judge denies an appeal, a claimant can then seek review with the Appeals Council.
The Appeals Council is a group of Administrative Law Judges located in Falls Church, Virginia. There are several "branches" of the Appeals Council, each assigned to a different area of the country. When the Appeals Council receives an appeal from a Social Security Disability claimant, it reviews all of the exhibits, the testimony at hearing, and typically invites additional argument and evidence.
The Appeals Council will then look to see whether the Administrative Law Judge properly evaluated the evidence, and applied the facts to the appropriate standards. In many cases, the Appeals Council will find that an Administrative Law Judge did not adequately explain his or her reasons for rejecting an expert medical opinion, or rejecting testimony from a friend or family member of the claimant, or even the claimant's own testimony.
Other times, the issues involve how the Administrative Law Judge evaluated the expert testimony of a Vocational Expert. In certain cases, the Administrative Law Judge may provide the Vocational Expert a hypothetical question which does not accurately reflect some of the physical or mental limitations found in the claimant's file. Other times, the vocational expert may testify that the claimant can perform a certain job, but the vocational expert does not accurately describe the physical requirements of a particular job or occupation.
If a claimant is successful in front of the Appeals Council, most of the time, the Appeals Council will "remand" the case back to the same judge who initially heard the case. A "remand" simply means that the cases being sent back to the judge for another hearing. The Appeals Council will include instructions to the Administrative Law Judge on what issues he or she needs to correct when reviewing the case a second time.
Obviously, somebody applying for disability may be concerned that the same judge who initially denied the case, and was now told that he or she made some mistakes, gets another chance at reviewing the case of the same person you pointed out the judge's mistakes. Some judges may have a problem with revealinga remand case, and others may not.
Social Security Administration policy limits how many times a particular Administrative Law Judge can hear a particular claimant's disability claim. If the judge rejects the disability claim a second time, and that second denial is successfully appealed, then the remand must be heard by a different judge.
We have argued several cases in front of the Appeals Council over the years, and when successful on remand, our clients are often entitled to several months of retroactive benefits. The lesson here is to not let timelines expire on appeals. This is especially true given the fact that often, and Appeals Council proceeding can last two years, even longer.
If you are in the middle of an application for disability benefits, and you have questions, order our free book, or give us a call at 503-325-8600. We will help you understand the process.