What is an administrative law judge and what do they do at Social Security disability hearings?

By / March 3, 2016 / Social Security Disability Hearings / 54 Comments

Learn how administrative law judges are trained by Social Security to conduct disability hearings and to decide if you are disabled under the law.

The Disability Hearing Functions of an Administrative Law Judge
An administrative law judge is an official hired by the Social Security Administration to conduct Social Security hearings, including hearings to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined by the Social Security Administration. Administrative law judges, who are often called ALJs for short, review case files, listen to claim arguments made by you or your attorney, listen to testimony, and decide whether to approve or deny claims that have been denied at a reconsideration appeal.

The Background and Training of Administrative Law Judges
Almost all ALJs are attorneys. Applicants for administrative law judge positions go through a very intensive and careful selection process that includes testing and panel interviews. Once they are selected, the new judges receive extensive training in a six-week-long course of study that includes Social Security law, regulations, and hearing procedures. For more information about what Social Security Disability hearings, see our other hearing articles, starting with What Is a Social Security Disability Hearing? and How long does it take to get a hearing decision and to start collecting Social Security Disability benefits?.

Advertisement
Advertisement

What is an administrative law judge and what do they do at Social Security disability hearings?
3.3 (66.67%) 3 votes

  • Dear Pam,

    The two bits of information are not in conflict. The second is just more specific than the first regarding where your claim is in the review and decision process.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Drakebrooks,

    Your son might qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). When he files a claim, it will be important for him to provide detailed information about the special accommodations that he received including getting statements from his brother and his friend and anyone else who provided accommodation. A statement from the pain clinic confirming that his pain levels are credible would help also. One question will be whether he can work seated so if he has sitting limitations that should be stated be as well.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Rick

    Hi Kay. Thank you for all that you do here. This is a very informative site and answering comment questions is above and beyond helpful.

    I filed for SSDI spring of 2014. Had my hearing last week. I filed for Bipolar and social anxiety per my doctor.

    In summer 2015, the diagnosis changed to schizophrenia (although psychotic disorder NOS was diagnosed since the beginning). I had informed my representative.

    At the hearing, my rep still had affective (12.04) and anxiety (12.06) down in his records. My doctor filled out the MRFC for (12.03).

    My question is would this make a difference? Can the ALJ issue a denial for 12.04 & 12.06 and ignore the 12.03? Do these even make a difference in his decision?

    I believe I meet the listing for 12.03, but not the others. My doctor is very supportive, but not detailed.

    Thank you.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Rick,

      If you or the attorney did not point out at the hearing that you have a new diagnosis, it might be helpful for your attorney to do so now before the final decision is rendered if the record is not close. If the diagnosis is overlooked or ignored and you are denied, you might have grounds for an appeal to the Appeals Council.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Kimberly

    Hi
    I posted a question about my son on another tab that hasn’t been answered yet. It says it’s awaiting moderation. Do I need to resubmit my question?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Kimberly,

      Your question was answered on August 9 under the article where you posted the question: “How Long Does It Take to Get a Hearing Decision and for Benefits to Start?”

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Trina

    Hello Kay
    I had my hearing on April 7 2016 I have suffered from chronic low back pain for years and have had 7 knee scopes from a doctor that
    has retired My lawyer didn’t have the paper work from this doctor but thankfully I keep everything and I told the ALJ that I had all the paperwork from this doctor plus the paperwork from my new doctor who did my 8th knee scope and did total knee replacements on both my knees . The ALJ said he would keep the case opened for 21 days for us to send it back to him which was sent in a few days later .At the hearing the VE really didn’t say there were any jobs that I could do and the ALJ said just from me having the 8 knee operations it was a good case and as soon as he got all the paperwork he would close the case it will be 60 day on June 30th and I still haven’t heard anything back from my hearing .

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Trina,

      You can call the hearing office to find out where your appeal is in the process. Sometimes it takes longer than sixty days to get a decision.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      S

      • Trina

        Hello Kay
        I did make that call and was told my letter was in editing and I should hear something after the 4th of July Weekend. Is it a bad sign that this has taken so long to hear back and that the letter is being edited

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Trina,

          The letter is being edited because an error was found in it. How long the appeal has pended and the letter’s being edited are not signs or approval or denial.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

  • RON

    hello kay i have contacted you for advice on the other stages of the ssdi process. i have been at the hearing stage for kingsport odar since nov2015 but i live in nc. i received a cc’d letter from the odar today stating my efile is available for my lawyer to view and i need to update my records since nov. then it states “as soon as you submit the forgoing, we will review your case to determine if a fully favorable decision can be made without a hearing. i would like to know if this is standard and everyone gets this or is there a chance the hearing office director has chosen my file because it seem favorable. 36yr old,herniated l4/5/s1 scar tissue from lamin/discectomy,severe back pain and neuropathy from back to feet. walking cane due to inability to ambulate. butran patches,percocet,spinal cord stimulator.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Ron,

      Your claim is being considered for an on-the-record (OTR) decision without a hearing because it has been assessed as possibly approvable without a hearing. This does not occur in every appeal. If it is decided an OTR approval is not possible, you will get a hearing to present your case and for the judge to gather any needed information such as vocational expert testimony.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      Sincerely,
      Kay

      • RON

        thank you, also i would like to know if there are numbers for the percentage of allowed otr approvals. how long does this stage take? i found an article from the office of inspector general to ssa odar requesting they revamp the atty adjudicator program the review alot of denials from dds because a majority of denials have enough evidence for a favorable decision. they replied that during the 2nd qtr of 2016 they will review alot of dds files with medical evidence that would be approved in a hearing so they can free up a lot of back log cases and the ALjs can focus on hearings that actually need to be in front of a judge. all of this is new info that has came out since jan. 2016. the objective is to finish otr reviews on pre selected cases within the first 100 days of being at ODAR and to implement a training program from ODAR to DDS to teach them to be able to inspect a file just like an ALJ so they can accurately make the correct decision instead of the judge getting it and stating the case should have been been won before this stage. i am trying to ask all the questions to help myself because the ssa process is enduring and info is not widely available of the processes and things to do to better your chances of winning a case. that is why i am sharing all the info i find.

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Ron,

          I did not see publication of the procedural change you describe. The program you describe sounds like good news. I do not have statistics for on-the-record (OTR) approvals among claims chosen for that kind of pre-hearing review. I would expect it to be fairly high once a claimant is notified of the OTR process because the claim would have been pre-screened for the review by that point.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

      • Lynette Lorenz

        Kay,
        I applied for SSDI in June 2015, denied in October, appealed denied in November, I have concrete medical evidence and records and did not have to see a SSDI doctor, in January 2016 my lawyer and I received a letter from the ODAR office stating they were attempting to give me a fully favorable decision without holding a hearing?
        I have Chronic Bursitis, aggressive joint deterioration, Fibromyalgia, Sojrens, osteoarthritis,Hypothyroidism, anxiety and severe depression, I went through extensive testing, 5 hospital stays ,6 surgeries, and 27 non invasive treatments to slow down my joint deterioration, I was 5’8 before my last hip Surgery March 2015 and now I am 5’5 1/2 . I spend most of my time in bed/wheelchair/walker, I am on 11 different medications which do not allow me to drive any longer, I will turn 50 in December , what does this letter mean?
        Thank you

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Lynette,

          The letter means that an initial review in the hearing office indicates that there may be enough information in your claim file to approve your claim without a hearing. If the review finds insufficient information to do so, you will get a hearing to present your case.

          Sincerely,
          Kay

      • Desperate

        Hi I didn’t know how to start a new question. I just had my hearing on June 30th. I’m 38 years old with cervical spondylosis bipolar depression and anxiety. I have social anxiety and have trouble leaving the house. The judge asked hypothsticals to the ve 1 she said there was no work I could do which involved missing work. I was hospitaliced last year and it was in my chart that I had drank. He asked me about it and I said I have not drank since June 1 of 2015. Also I had my Dr put in my record substance abuse because at 1 time my psychiatrist had me on 4 benzos to treat my condition and I can’t take them so it was easier to do that I explained that to the judge and he didn’t question it further. My questions are if the ve says no work for 1 of the hypothsticals does that mean you will likely get approved. Also I’m married my husband and I have a joint checking account. He does the bills will the money go into out joint account or would they try to have me get a payee. I’ve not been deemed incompetent. And I do not remember when I applied putting any information on my application for direct deposit. Thanks for your help.

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Desperate,

          If it is documented that you have a history of missing a lot of work due to your psychiatric condition, the VE’s testimony will be helpful for an approval. You can submit bank account information as soon as you get an approval letter for direct deposit to the joint account or to any account you would like. If the judge finds that you need a payee based on our mental health records or says that a payee should be considered, your benefits may be paid to a representative payee. (Sometimes individuals with bi-polar disorder have payees because they lose judgement in manic periods.)

          Sincerely,
          Kay

          • Desperate

            Kay. Thanks for the input. Ik it was not discussed about paywe information. So I could just have it deposited into our joint account. All of our bills are joint we have been married 10 years. Ik that my Dr filled out a medical source statement stating that I would miss 4 times a month or more.

            • Kay Derochie

              Dear Desperate,

              If your claim is approved without the need for a representative payee, yes, you can have your benefits direct deposited into your joint account.

              Sincerely,
              Kay

          • Desperate

            Sorry I have more questions. What is the likelihood of an approval with pertaining to the ve testimony. My lawyer did not cross examine etc. I would probably petition to be my own beneficiaeyes as everything right down to our credit cards are joint and with reading everything about payeeverything even if my husband would be my payee they would still audit him very closely. I think that I did read that you have to have an extreme case to get a payee as well. Because of this waiting period we are in major debt both him and me with me being out of income for 3 years. just didn’t seem fair I guess to let him sink. Thanks so much for answering all my questions.

            • Kay Derochie

              Dear Desperate,

              I can’t be any more specific about your chances for approval that what I wrote inmy first response of July 4. If a payee is recommended and you and your husband don’t think it is necessary, you can appeal the payee decision.

              Sincerely,
              Kay

  • Michelle

    I had my hearing on Jan 22,2016 the judge that is handling my case ask me preliminary questions like my name ,age, my address. I had brought with me my witnesses n latest updated medical record. The judge tells me that since my case has two areas of interest to address that he needed to gather more information on my case. I’m already getting ssdi. What I was appealing is the alleged onset date. Also I applied in 2013 n it was approved, but I forgot that I had applied initially in 2009 and was denied. The judge says he has to look at all the evidence and he may be able to deliver an otr decision. Fast foward almost four months later and the clerk that is handling the cases for the judge that has my case tells me when I called that they finally had a medical professional to look over my case and they sent back the paperwork with the answers that the judge wanted answered. They are sending me a copy of the questions that the judge asked the medical professional. The clerk then informed me that then they will schedule my hearing again. The medical evidence that I submitted shows that on the date that I alleged onset date I was admitted to the hospital and that’s when all my problems really really went down. Does the judge asking for another hearing mean a denial?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Michelle,

      The judge asking for another hearing does not necessarily mean a denial. He may want to ask you more questions. If your witnesses did not get to testify at the first hearing, try to have the present at the second.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • H Clark

    Personally, I don’t think my ALJ follows the procedure she was supposed to. I have been seeing my doctor every 30 days for 18 years, yet she said in her decision that she placed no credibility in my treating physicians. I was well into a six-figure salary, and I’m not so stupid that I would rather have $2000/mo than $10000/mo. I had a major heart attack in which I had a 95% blockage in the left coronary, and a 90% blockage in my right coronary. The only reason I survived, and this was said by 2 cardiologists, was just so happened that I lived next door to the local ambulance service and stumbled in there before I lost consciousness. If I had waited 10 to 15 minutes for paramedics I would have never survived. My ALJ said in her decision that the stenting was successful, and therefore there were no remaining issues with my heart. After showing my cardiologist that, he said “that is the most ludicrous statement I have ever seen!” I still have a 65% blockage that can only be reached by open heart surgery, and all doctors said that my best course of action was to treat the remaining blockage with medication, and to “hang it up”. However, she stated that I could do a job as long as I could sit and stand at will, takes breaks as often as I needed one, and as long as my employer placed no pressure to perform at a pace that I could not tolerate. Are there jobs counting unicorns? Who wouldn’t want a job like that. I am over 55, and even the courts VE said I was limited to sedentary work. Even going by the “grid rules” I am considered disabled, yet my ALJ said in her decision that she saw no reason to use the grid rules because ” there wasn’t enough disability to come into play” I also have stage 4 chronic kidney disease, and testosterone levels substantially below the low end of what is considered a normal range. I cannot have testosterone therapy due to my heart condition, and there is no “magic pill” for chronic kidney disease. All the condition above cause severe fatigue, and added together causes severe fatigue. It is all I can do to shower and get dressed without having to take a break. I am divorced, have no children, so I have no one to help me. I have lost everything I have…home, automobile, am being sued by several collection agencies. Yes, I had substantial savings but this has been going on since 2012. 4 years pretty much wiped me out. As of now, I bounce around my sisters, cousins, aunts, just to have a place to sleep. I honestly think my issue is I am in the district where the shenanigans took place between an attorney and ALJ that was in the national news and went before Congress. However, my attorney is not the one in that situation. I think the ALJ in my district have overcompensated and everyone is afraid to approve anything except terminal illnesses. My attorney has appealed to the Federal Appeals Council, but I am afraid that I cannot tolerate 24 more months of this. I’ll either be in a mental institution or dead.

    • Kay Derochie

      Hear H.,

      It was appropriate for your attorney to file an appeal and it sounds as if not all your conditions were taken into account.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Syeda White

    Hi wanted to know after the hearing of January 29 the judge gave my lawyer 29 business days for more paper work. Today is the 29th day. What happens if its not in.

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Syeda,

      If the requested paperwork is not submitted and an extension is not obtained, your appeal will be decided without it, which could be unfavorable.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Liz

    Hi Kay I originally filed for disability November 2013 and was denied. My hearing date was January 2015 and my lawyer was so unprepared that the judge told her she needed to reschedule the hearing. I am so upset. Can I still look for another attorney or should I wait for the next hearing? Also can the current attorney take some of my backpay if I win my case?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Liz,

      I suggest that you read the terms of the contract you signed with your current attorney and talk with Social Security to determine whether you can terminate the contract and the effect termination will have on the attorney’s rights to a fee. (I have heard of a fee being split between two attorneys.)

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • I was given a fully favorable decision on December 12 th 2015 that date’s back to Feb of 2013 for being disabled April 14 for ssi and and Aug of 13 for ssdi I received award letter’s from ssi for my money and back pay and have two sons that will still be eligible for payment’s under ssdi and a daughter who was under 18 in 13 they made them a appointment for the 21 of January to talk with them about back pay they are due!! Now in the meantime I’ve just received a letter from ssi stating under thing’s you should know that I’m receiving ssi and with that application I also filed for social security benefits and I can’t get them what would this mean I’m clueless…. They said my ssdi was sent to a proccesing payment center on Dec the 21st I’m so confused

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lavern,

      I think that you can rely on the fact that your children’s claims are being set up as assurance that your SSDI claim will be paid. Your Social Security back pay will be reduced by the amount for SSI back pay for the same period, but I don’t know why the SSI letter would say your aren’t eligible, except that it is an error. You can take the letter to Social Security for an explanation.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Lanette

    Hello, I live in CA and requested a hearing and recieved the confirmation from SSDI on March 2015 that it would take 8-12 months to get a hearing. A week ago I recieved a letter that the courts or whatever is doing an on the record review and they only need my records from a year before I applied for disability which are very extensive. Does that seem like a good sign since I never requested an OTR and that’s all they are asking for?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Lanette,

      It is a good sign that the judge is attempting an on-the-record (OTR) decision because it means he or she thinks the claim can be approved without a hearing. (If the claim can’t be approved on the OTR, you will get a hearing.) If you don’t provide the records, you run the risk of being denied both OTR and at a hearing.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Arkeebal

    Good evening I have a herniated disc spinal stenosis facet hypertrophy foraminal narrowing sciatica lumbar radiculopathy and bulging disc and degenerative disc. Do l meet listing 1.04?
    Thanks for your time!

  • Kim

    I had my hearing via conference in Okc a couple of weeks ago. I have ptsd and major depressive disorder and get va disability for that. The judge that was going to hear my case was not there so a judge from Louisiana heard it. He was not friendly or nice and my attorney at the end asked for to call my husband as a witness. The judge had said at the beginning my husband could not be in the room if he was going to be called as a witness but at the end when my attorney asked for him the judge said he didn’t need to hear him. His demeanor was not sympathetic at all and the vocational expert never said anything during the hearing nor did the judge ask him any questions. My question is it a good thing he didn’t want to hear my husband and that the VE didn’t say or be asked anything. I also on a side note have ulcerative colitis and high blood pressure. What are my chances of getting disability?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Kim,

      I can’t predict for sure whether your claim will be approved; however, the fact that he did not have the vocational expert (VE) testify and didn’t want to hear your husband’s testimony is a sign that he may approve the claim. If he denies the claim, the lack of testimony might be grounds to successfully appeal a denial.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

    • Kim jones

      I have a learning disability and I went to ss court and the judge ask me do I work and how much money I make do I make more than 1000 and I said no he all so said he will mail the answer in the mail and read it good because it a 2nd step that I have to do and my dr gave me a letter and he said this is good what do you think is going to happen do you think I will get appove

      • Kay Derochie

        Dear Kim,

        I do not have enough information to predict whether or not your claim will be approved, but possibly the judge is going to approve your claim and is telling you that you will have to provide updated financial information to your Social Security office to get payment started. However, please do not count on my guess because it could be wrong.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

  • heather brown

    i have no clue where my question went. i”m sorry

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Heather,

      Your question and my answer are posted under “How Should I Answer the Judge’s Questions?” under the Hearings tab.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • olivia

    My lawyer told me to don’t go to the hearing cause its not gud
    E nuff I going for my back high blood pressure in anxiety what
    Going on she new lawyer the old lawyer give her my case

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Olivia,

      Is the lawyer saying that you should abandon your appeal because you are not disabled or does she think you will do better not appearing at the hearing and allowing the judge just to review the file? If it is the former, you may want to get a second legal opinion.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • tammy

    I just called the ODAR building where I attended my hearing with my attorney. The lady said my case was in editing. I asked her was that a bad thing and she said no it just means they are making sure everything is correct. Can you please tell me does it sounds like a good decision or bad, from your opinion. Thank you

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Tammy,

      All decision letters, approval or denial, are reviewed by the judge before they are sent out. If the judge finds errors in the letter, the letter is sent to editing to be corrected.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • troubled

    I went to court Oct 15 2014 the judge approved my disability
    Nov 14 2014 I called the Ssi hearing office they stated the judge sent my approval to be written up the day after my hearing
    How long does this take? They are foreclosing on my home
    Would another letter of dire need help?
    Thank you for taking the time to help us

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Troubled,

      It can take from a couple weeks to a couple months to get the letter written up, approved by the judge, and sent to you. It will take additional time for payment to commence. I suggest that you talk with the mortgage holder and tell them you have received a verbal approval and expect to have funds within two to three months that you can use to catch up your mortgage. If they will work with you and you don’t have the money within two months, you will have the approval letter you can show the lender. This way you may be able to forestall foreclosure.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Nelson

    Hi, I applied for Social Security Disability back in August 2012. I appealed and requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (back in January of 2013). In March of 2014 received a letter stating that they were trying to make a “determination without a hearing” and that I had to have a consultative exam (CE). This was scheduled for May of this year, I did go to the CE. I have been waiting since then for a decision. Could the judge deny my claim even though I requested a hearing and have not gotten one? It’s been already 2 years since I started this entire process. Does it usually take this long? Any insights would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks….

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Nelson,

      You will not be denied without a hearing. I would have expected you to have received either an approval or a hearing date by now. I suggest you call the hearing office to see whether a decision is in the writing department.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Kelly

    I had a hearing back in Jan 2014, was told in late March case is now with writer, I just got a call from my PC that SSDI wants more info. What does this mean?

    • Kay Derochie

      Dear Kelly,

      I do not recognize the abbreviation “PC,” so I am not sure who is asking for the additional information–the Disability Determination Services or your local Social Security office or someone else, but I will share one possibility. It could be that your claim has been approved and that some non-medical information is needed to complete processing.

      Sincerely,

      Kay

      Sincerely,

      Kay

      • Kelly

        Sorry Kay, PC is primary care doctor. Thank you for your insight.

        • Kay Derochie

          Dear Kelly,

          Thank you for your explanation. I would say either the information that the hearing decision had been made and the appeal was in writing was incorrect or when the judge got the letter back from writing he or she decided to get additional information before finalizing the decision. If your primary care physician hasn’t already responded, I suggest following up with him or her to reply as soon as possible.

          Sincerely,

          Kay

Read It To Me
Listen to the article with our text to speech feature
Ask the Adivsor
Click for the BBB Business Review of this Online Publications in Orlando FL

Send this to a friend