The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that effective November 19, 2012, field offices nationwide will close to the public 30 minutes early each day. In addition, beginning January 2, 2013 Social Security offices will close to the public at noon every Wednesday. The SSA cites significantly reduced funding by Congress as the reason for the early closures.
With increasing pressure on local offices to resolve backlogs with ever shrinking resources, it is clear that claimants will have even more limited access to claims handlers. Therefore, it is imperative that claimants contact an attorney as soon as possible for assistance developing the medical record in their cases, and to ensure a complete understanding of the process.
Coupled with the reduced hours that SSA offices will be open to the public is the alarming trend of declining approval rates at the Administrative Judge Hearing level. Historically, approximately 50% of claimants have had to pursue applications through a hearing with an Administrative Judge before being approved. In Massachusetts in 2012, 54% of applications were fully favorable after a hearing. This was an astonishing 15% drop from 2010 when the fully favorable approval rating was 69%. In Boston, one Administrative Judge had an incredible drop of 41% in fully favorable determinations over the same two year period.*
An attorney who has a thorough understanding of an applicant’s situation and who has had time to obtain the necessary evidence is in the best position to present a case to an Administrative Judge at a hearing. Claimants should not wait to receive a notice of a hearing to contact a lawyer. The more time an attorney has to prepare the case the stronger it likely will be.
*Information obtained from the Social Security Administration ALJ disposition data for total dispositions.