A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of hearings-level award rates for disability claims revealed that “claimants who had representation at their hearings, were awarded benefits at a rate nearly 3 times higher than those who proceeded without representatives.”
The report also quotes Social Security Administration officials as stating, “[A] representative can help the claimant by ensuring that the medical evidence and other records are fully developed and help the claimant present their case at a hearing.”
At Bailey & Galyen we have always believed in the value of personal, quality, experienced representation at Social Security hearings, but it is gratifying to have validation from an official source. The report, entitled “Additional Measures and Evaluation Needed to Enhance Accuracy and Consistency of Social Security Hearings Decisions,” was released in January 2019. It studied decisions made by administrative law judges (ALJ) on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims between fiscal years 2007 and 2015, a period when requests for hearings increased, peaked, and then declined. During this time period, 77% of claimants at ALJ hearings had attorney representatives and 12% had non-attorney representatives.
During the studied time period, the overall award rates and findings of disability decreased significantly. Interestingly, judges who joined the Social Security Administration between the years 1995 and 1999, and who were still hearing cases between 2007 and 2015, had higher award rates than newer ALJs. Several other factors also impacted the likelihood a claimant would receive a favorable outcome. For example, older claimants, and those with a college education, were more likely to be awarded benefits. Additionally, favorable awards were more likely in cases involving dire need, and SSDI claims had a greater chance of success than SSI claims. Hearings that included testimony from a medical expert were more likely to result in an award of benefits, while vocational expert testimony decreased the chance of a favorable award.
The study reveals that a finding of disability at a social security hearing is becoming increasingly difficult. More than ever, it is imperative that you have an experienced, qualified, and hardworking representative on your side when applying for disability benefits. If you are hurt, injured, or unable to work, contact Bailey & Galyen for a free case evaluation.