About a tenth of the nation’s 1,500 administrative law judges (“ALJs”) gathered in Texas a few weeks ago for their annual conference. ALJs are familiar to anyone who has been involved in the disability benefits application process. As the first level of appeal beyond Social Security Administration staff, they are the judges that often make or break the applications of disability benefits hopefuls. If an ALJ rules against an applicant, most applicants are unsuccessful at trying to appeal further.
The ALJ conference covered a range of topics that pertain to the disability benefits process. Reducing the ever-increasing backlog of cases was one topic of concern. ALJs hear more than 650,000 cases a year, with nearly a million now filed annually.
ALJs also voiced their concerns over security and displeased applicants. Because ALJs are part of the executive branch and not the judicial branch like federal district court judges, ALJS do not operate out of federal courthouses with high security. ALJS are often in leased office space. The president of the ALJ conference noted that there have been 200 threats to ALJs and that applicants have attacked several.
At the same time, ALJs know they cannot dispose of cases haphazardly. The average taxpayer bill per case is $300,000, and legitimately disabled applicants may need a lifetime of support from the system they paid into during their working lives. The stakes are high. Acknowledging the long waits that many face, the ALJ president lamented, “There’s nothing more painful than seeing a widow or widower appearing in the [applicant’s] place.”
What have your experiences been in dealing with the administrative law judges of the disability benefits process?
Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability attorneys