“Winning” at the Social Security Appeals Council isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

You have been denied disability benefits by an Administrative Law Judge at your Social Security hearing. You filed an appeal with the Social Security Appeals Council.

If they approve the appeal, you can get your disability benefits? Right? Umm Probably not.

Here’s the lowdown that you need to know about what happens at the Appeals Council:

The Social Security Appeals Council generally looks at three things:

  • Was there an error of law? Did the Judge apply the wrong standard, or misapply a standard?
  • Were the Judge’s actions, findings and conclusions supported by substantial evidence?
  • Is there as broad policy or procedural issue which may affect the general and public interest?

Of these three, the Appeals Council (AC) mostly deals with legal error.

Why am I discussing this? Because, even if there is legal error, that does not necessarily mean you are disabled. It only means there were mistakes at the hearing level; and that is not enough to win disability benefits.

So what do you get if you win at the Appeals Council?

The majority of the time, the Appeals Council will not approve a case outright. Instead, if there were significant mistakes at the hearing level, the Appeals Council will send the case back to the hearing level with instructions on what needs to be done to correct the mistakes.

You don’t win, you get sent back for another hearing. Here is the other shoe dropping: the second hearing is typically with the same judge that heard the case at the first hearing.

While you can request a new Judge, or ask the Judge to recuse him/herself if you feel that you were treated unfairly, you generally get the same judge when a case is remanded from the Appeals Council. The exceptions to this are as follows:

  • If you had an out-of-state Judge at the first hearing who is not available for the second hearing. Or,
  • If you have already appealed a decision from the same judge to the Appeals Council twice and had the same case remanded.

For more information about appealing to a hearing denial to the Social Security Appeals Council, click here.

  • diane

    What if your case remanded back to judge and you have a new hearing. And on your second claim you were awarded benefits. DOes this jeopardize your current benefits.? thank you

  • diane

    The paralegal says it shouldnt affect my case. Well that is not good enough for me and I dont know who to call for the right answer, short of calling the judge. Which u no wont happen

  • http://StasiukFirm.com/ TomaszStasiuk

    Ooo, I’d be worried that the remand hrg might affect the decision on the 2nd claim. But I don’t have an yes or no answer. What does your lawyer say?

  • http://StasiukFirm.com/ TomaszStasiuk

    Actually, if it were me, I would call the staff attorney at the ODAR office (the appeal office) and ask. They are a great source of information when you need to figure out the interaction of various Social Security regulations.

    The other thing I do when I am not sure of an answer is to ask some of the other Social Security practitioners.

  • Disability Help

    how often does the case to the Federal Court of Appeals?

  • tawnya

    Hi, I had 2 hearings with the same judge who after the second hearing denied me within 10days, a didn’t think that was fair, anyhow I am at the appeals council level, what do you think my chances are? Thank You in advance, PS I live in Pa if that makes a difference and been fighting this claim 5/2012 it started out with mental disorders like Bi Polar, depression and anxiety, but now I need back surgery. So what do you think my chances are?