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The Appeals Council Denies More Than 80% Of Disability Appeals

If a claimant loses their case at the ALJ hearing, they have the right to appeal the case to the Appeals Council.  The Appeals Council reviews cases from the entire country and it takes, on average, two years for them to review an appeal.  The Appeals Council will either deny review (which means the case must then be appealed to Federal Court), remand the case back to the same ALJ, or grant the case (this is very rare).  Unfortunately, data released by the Social Security Administration reveals that the number of claimant’s who are successful on appeal has plummeted over the past five years.

In 2010 the Appeals Council remanded %21.77 of the cases that it reviewed. In 2011, the percentage of remands was similar, at %21.19. The percentage of cases since then has steadily declined until 2015, where the Appeals Council only remanded  %13.58 of the cases it reviewed.  SSA’s data shows that in 2016, the percentage has declined again to %12.3. This means that out of hundreds of thousands of appeals, the Appeals Council remanded approximately 19,000 cases in 2016. Data is not available for 2017, but the troubling trend of denying review for the majority of disabled individuals who appeal their case has not changed.

Since 2010, the Appeals Council has not only had more than an 8 percent drop in remands, they have also spent their time reviewing favorable ALJ decisions and remanding those cases back to ALJ’s in an attempt to overturn cases where the claimant was awarded benefits.  This is an alarming turn of events for the disabled community when one considers that over the same period of time, the ALJ award rate at hearing has fallen from %63 in 2009 to %45 in 2014.  In other words, the ALJ award rate has dropped by 20% in the last 6 years.

But, even when the ALJ grants a case there is a chance that the SSA will review it of its own accord and the claimant will have to go through another hearing. These statistics mean that hundreds of thousands of disabled people throughout the country are being denied at ALJ hearings and at the Appeals Council. Worse, once an ALJ has granted a case, there is a chance that the benefits can be taken away, simply because the Appeals Council has the unfettered power to review favorable decisions.

In what another court system in this country is a case reviewed by a higher court and overturned without an appeal? The answer is – there are no other court systems that subject independent judge’s decisions to being overturned without appeal. Obviously, the SSA is attempting to lower the amount of SSD cases that are granted  by steadily denying review at the Appeals Council level and overturning favorable ALJ awards at the same time. If the percentage of remanded cases can drop so quickly in a 5 year period, disabled claimant’s are dealing with a court system that is rigged against them by a governmental agency who appears to be willing to do anything to save a dollar.

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