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ALJs struggle to reduce backlog of disability appeals while maintaining accuracy

Social Security disability is an important resource for thousands of severely disabled Americans, but the program has been facing troubles for some time. Among these problems is that the Social Security Administration has been trying to deal with a major backlog of disability applications. At present, there are currently 990,339 applicants awaiting a decision from administrative law judges.

Administrative law judges, as we’ve previously written on this blog, handle the second level of appeals within the Social Security disability system, after reconsiderations.  In a hearing with a judge, the applicant has the opportunity to present his or her case in person, with or without the assistance of an attorney, presenting any new evidence that may be relevant to their case.Â

One of the major issues that administrative law judges have to consider on appeal is whether an applicant’s disability really prevents them from working. Under Social Security rules, an applicant must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity in any industry.

Administrative law judges, no doubt, are under enormous pressure not only to reduce the backlog of disability claims, but also to make accurate decisions in the process. As we’ve written before, these goals are in obvious tension and judges who have made quick decisions in an effort to reduce the backlog have been targeted for inaccuracy.

There may be no easy way to quickly reduce the backlog, but it is important for SSDI applicants to understand that they do have the right to an accurate decision in their case. If an appeal is necessary to ensure such a decision, it can be greatly helpful to work with an experienced attorney.

Source: Washington Post, “The biggest backlog in the federal government,” David Fahrenthold, October 18, 2014.Â

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