What Should We Do About Social Security Disability Appeals?

8 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2011 Last revised: 19 Feb 2013

See all articles by Richard J. Pierce

Richard J. Pierce

George Washington University Law School

Date Written: November 1, 2011


Applicants for Social Security Disability benefits whose applications have twice been rejected can appeal that decision to one of the agency’s administrative law judges (ALJs). The appeals process is heavily weighted in the applicant’s favor: the agency is not represented in the appeal hearing, all government employees participating in the hearing have a duty to assist the applicant, the ALJ himself does not have medical expertise, and as a practical matter ALJ decisions are final. As a result, appellants have an extremely high success rate before ALJs, even though agency analyses indicate that a large number of these successful appellants are not disabled under the law. The cost of ALJ-awarded disability benefits is remarkably high: in 2011 they equaled 2 percent of total federal spending and 6 percent of the budget deficit. This paper examines these ALJ decisions, their costs, evidence that many of these decisions are not supported by law, and considers a number of proposals to reform the system.

Keywords: social security disability benefits, ALJ, Administrative law judges, appeals process, U.S. social security, federal social security policy, reform

JEL Classification: H55, I38

Suggested Citation

Pierce, Richard J., What Should We Do About Social Security Disability Appeals? (November 1, 2011). Regulation, Vol. 34, No. 3, 2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1956016

Richard J. Pierce (Contact Author)

George Washington University Law School ( email )

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Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-1549 (Phone)
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