In 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that it was not going to disclose the name of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will handle a claim until the day of the hearing. SSA claimed that some representatives were abusing the system by canceling hearings when they found out who the ALJ was going to be weeks in advance of the hearing. Until SSA announced this plan, I had never heard of this happening….literally, not once in 20 years of handling Social Security Disability and SSI cases had I heard of an attorney or representative doing this.
Well, Congress is now requiring SSA to explain what alternatives they considered before enacting the policy. The Senate Committee on Appropriations, in Senate Report 112-176, is also encouraging SSA to consider more focused remedies to fix suspected abuses. The Committee Report reads:
LIMITATION ON ADMINISTRATIVE EXPENSES
Adminstrative Law Judge Disclosure Policy. – The Committee is concerned about SSA’s new policy to not disclose the name of the ALJ who will preside over a disability appeal until the day of the hearing. The Committee notes SSA’s concern with the possibility of claimant representatives abusing the process, specifically as it relates to declining a video hearing or postponing other hearings simply to search for judges they believe are more likely to allow a case. This abuse challenges the integrity of the process and can cause administrative delays. However, such a broad policy change could have unintended consequences. The Committee strongly encourages SSA to consider policies more targeted at suspected abuse, such as sanctions against individual representatives or changes to regulations to prevent representatives from canceling a video hearing close to the hearing date without due cause. The Committee directs SSA to submit a report to the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate no later than November 1, 2012, detailing the type and scope of abuse under the previous policy and alternative policies that were considered or could otherwise be used to address the issue.
The full committee report is found at: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&sid=cp1121aqa2&r_n=sr176.112&dbname=cp112&sel=DOC&.
After half a year of the non-disclosure policy in action, my view is that it harms the system more than it helps. Each ALJ has their own method of preparing for and conducting hearings. One advantage to SSA of attorneys and representatives that are knowledgable about the Judges is that a case can be prepared to address the questions we know that particular ALJs have. We can tailor briefs to a specific ALJ and provide evidence on topics we know certain ALJs require. Now, we have to prepare cases for every ALJs likes and dislikes. For those that do not require certain things, we are simply overloading files…because we do not know if we will get an ALJ that cares about something or not. Our pre-hearing briefs are growing in size, because some ALJs like them short and some like them long and detailed. We err on the side of a short brief at our client’s peril.
It would have been much easier for SSA to simply discipline those attorneys and non-attorney that were abusing the system. Instead, SSA chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and it simply added more work for everyone – including their ALJs.
Denied SSDI or SSI in Florida, call disability attorney John Tucker at (866) 282-5260 for a free consultation.