Thursday, October 22, 2009

Attorney Advisors

In May 2007, the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) announced plans to eliminate the backlog of hearing requests by providing funding to hire additional staff. According to the SSA’s own statistics, in the New York region, the hearing wait was 547 days in May 2007. As of August 2009, the hearing wait had been reduced to 474 days.

Notwithstanding the SSA’s statistics, it is not unusual for a Social Security Disability claimant to have to wait nearly two years before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) hears the case. However, that delay can be avoided by making use of the staff attorneys at hearing offices known as Attorney Advisors. The SSA has extended the Attorney Advisor program to August 2011.

The Attorney Advisor program allows the hearing office attorneys to issue fully favorable on-the-record (“OTR”) decisions, which negates the need for a hearing with an ALJ. Allowing the attorneys to approve the more obvious cases not only expedites those claimants’ benefits, but also enables ALJs to focus on the more complex cases. The best way to show an Attorney Advisor that a case does not require an ALJ is by showing the claimant meets a Medical-Vocational rule or listed impairment criteria that requires a finding of disability. I received a fully favorable OTR decision today from an Attorney Advisor that illustrates this point.

I represent a 59 year old former mason tender and currency trader. I cited a Medical-Vocational rule that required finding him disabled even he were capable of performing sedentary work. The Attorney Advisor accepted the evidence and arguments in support of applying that rule, which made it an obvious case for approval. Instead of waiting 474 days for a hearing, the claimant’s OTR was approved in less than 60 days.

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