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In Louisiana, Social Security Disability and SSI applications are initially approved or denied by the Office of Disability Determinations Services, a division of the Louisiana Department of Social Services.

More than 1,000 people apply for Social Security Disability or SSI in Louisiana each week and more than two out of every three of those initial applications are denied. Many people abandon their claim after that initial denial. Some reapply, but most who just reapply are just denied again.

If your initial application is denied, you should file an appeal to the Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication & Review and request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (an "ALJ"). 

Louisiana is one of ten states currently operating under an expedited decision making process that is attempting to shortened the delay between the date of the initial application and the date of your hearing. In most states, when an initial application is denied, the first step of the appeals process is a Reconsideration. In a Reconsideration, the claim is sent back to the state agency to be reviewed by an additional examiner, i.e., an examiner who did not participate in the initial decision. We skip this step in Louisiana and send the claim on to the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

Even with the expedited process, it is not uncommon to wait many months  from the time your attorney files your Request for a Hearing until the date the hearing actually occurs. Unfortunately, the administrative offices of the Social Security Administration are severely underfunded and understaffed, resulting long in delays as your claim works its way through each step in the system. 

Though Administrative Law Judges are affiliated with the Social Security Administration, the individual judges function with a large degree of independence from the rest of the organization. Judges are not bound by any decisions made about your claim before it reached their office. Thus, the Administrative Law Judge will try to perform an independent review of all of the information relating to your claim.

Though a typical Social Security hearing will last approximately an hour, some hearings are as brief as a few minutes to as long as 2-3 hours.  At the beginning or end of your hearing, the Judge and your attorney may discuss the laws and Regulations that apply to your claim, the timeframes at issue, the elements of the claim that the Judge believes are important and whether the Judge believes that particular medical evidence supports or hinders awarding you benefits.

During the hearing, you will be asked many questions about your condition, your living situation, your work history, your education, your medical history and anything else the judge believes is important. Some judges do most of their own questioning. Others leave it to the lawyer to ask the questions to the claimant. 

Many hearings are attended by only the Judge, a Social Security employee who records the hearing, the claimant and the claimant's attorney. The Judge will sometimes request that a Vocational Expert attend the hearing to provide information about the type and amount of work that may be available within the restrictions outlined by your doctors. Occasionally, the Judge will have a doctor attend the hearing to provide testimony about your "residual functional capacity." The doctor (who has never examined you) will review your medical records, listen to your testimony and provide an opinion about the extent of your disability and the type of work that your medical condition might allow you to perform. 

The Judge will then decide your claim. Though it's not required, many Judges will tell you at the end of the hearing if they intend to rule in your favor. The Judge's formal decision will be issued in writing and the claimant and their attorney usually receive the written decision about two to three months after the hearing. 

If the Judge rules in your favor, you will receive a letter in approximately two to three months letting you know the amount of your accrued benefits and the amount of your future monthly payments. If your claim is denied, we have sixty days to appeal the decision to the Social Security Appeals Council. 

For most claimants, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge is your best opportunity to present evidence and explain your case to an individual who has the authority to rule in your favor. Don't waste that opportunity. Use it wisely. Be prepared.

Next: Hiring An Attorney


David Buie, Louisiana Workers Compensation Attorney and Social Security Disability Attorney, 650 Poydras Street, Suite 1400, New Orleans, LA 70131, (800) 851-9405 / Fax: (866) 702-5297 Representing claimants in:
Alexandria Baton Rouge Bossier City Covington Gretna
Hammond Harahan Harvey Houma Kenner Lafayette Lake Charles
Laplace Marrero Metairie Monroe New Iberia New Orleans
Opelousas Ruston Shreveport Slidell Terrytown

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