Friday, June 29, 2012

Bench Decision

Sometimes a Social Security Disability (“SSD”) claimant will retain me shortly before their hearing. When I have represented a claimant from the outset, I am usually able to submit an on-the-record (”OTR”) request for a fully favorable decision. If the OTR is approved, then the claimant receives SSD benefits without needing a hearing.

Once a hearing is scheduled, it would be highly unusual for an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to approve the OTR, since its purpose is to expedite benefits prior to a hearing. In those circumstances, requesting a bench decision should be considered.

An ALJ can orally issue a bench decision. Like an OTR, a bench decision is always fully favorable. The bench decision explains the ALJ’s reasons for granting the application at the hearing. Because the bench decision uses a short template, the decision can be issued quickly.

I was retained by a 54 year old medical equipment repairer from Florida after his hearing was scheduled. The ALJ issued his written bench decision today a week after the hearing, which was possible because it was unnecessary to spend the extra time it would have taken to prepare a typical fully favorable written decision.

ALJs may be reluctant to issue bench decisions out of concern that the Appeals Council would reject the decisions as part of the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) quality control. I have seen the Appeals Council reject well-written fully favorable decisions. The SSA is urging greater productivity from ALJs so it would seem to make sense for the Commissioner to make it clear to ALJs that using the bench decision procedure will not result in a rejection by the Appeals Council.

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