Study Reveals Positive Effect of Professional Representation at Social Security Hearings

Social Security Administration

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 officials as stating “that 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 and Galyen we have always believed in the value of personal, quality, experienced representation at social security, 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 ALJ decisions made on SSI and SSDI claims between Fiscal Years 2007 and 2015, a time period where 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 social security between the years 1995 to 1999 and were still hearing cases between 2007 and 2015 had higher award rates than newer ALJs. Several other factors also impacted chances of favorable outcome. For example, older claimants were more likely to be awarded benefits than younger adults. Additionally, having a critical case or dire need situation, a college education, and a claim for SSDI rather than SSI also increased the chance of receiving a favorable award. Interestingly, 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.

These numbers reveal that a finding of disability at social security is becoming increasingly more difficult. Now 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 please contact us at Bailey and Galyen for a free case evaluation.