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IL disability lawyerA new rule that went into effect December 16, 2020, could make it harder for disabled individuals seeking to qualify for Social Security disability benefits. The rule changes the disability appeals process by allowing attorneys who work for the Social Security Administration to conduct hearings and make decisions on whether the claimant is eligible for benefits. Up until December, these hearings were always overseen by independent and impartial administrative law judges (ALJ).

Social Security Disability Benefits Process

It is important for anyone who is applying for Social Security disability to understand how complicated and drawn out this process often is and why it can be critical to have an experienced Chicago disability attorney advocating for you. There can be up to four steps in applying for benefits:

  • Initial application: Many people file their initial request for disability benefits either online or over the phone. It is rare that an applicant’s initial application is approved at this stage. If a claim is denied, the applicant can request a reconsideration.
  • Reconsideration: An applicant has 60 days from their date of denial to file a Request for Reconsideration. The Social Security Administration will again review the application. Sometimes, at this level, the agency will approve the applicant’s claim and they will begin receiving benefits. However, it is also very common for the agency to deny the claim again. If this occurs, the applicant can request a hearing.
  • Hearing: An applicant again has 60 days from the day their Request for Reconsideration was denied to file a Request for a Hearing. The hearing usually takes place at the applicant’s local Social Security Administration Office in front of an ALJ. It is highly recommended that the applicant has a qualified disability attorney who is experienced in defending denied Social Security disability benefits. Once the attorney presents all the evidence on behalf of the applicant, the ALJ will decide if the claim should be approved. If the ALJ denies the claim, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Appeals Council.
  • Appeals Council: These appeal hearings are decided by administrative appeal judges (AAJ). Unlike an ALJ, who is impartial and independent, an AAJ works directly for the Social Security Administration. The role of the AAJ is not to evaluate the applicant’s case, but only to determine if the ALJ made a technical error or did not consider any relevant medical information during the hearing.

New Policy

Under the new policy, those same AAJs will now be allowed to hear and decide hearings instead of or in addition to ALJs and this could have a detrimental impact on an applicant’s ability to obtain a fair and just hearing. In addition to requiring ALJs to be independent and impartial from the Social Security Administration, they also are required to have a minimum of seven years experience as a licensed and practicing attorney and have significant experience in trials and litigation.

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