It is not unusual for a person’s initial application for Social Security disability benefits to be denied. However, there is an appeals process in place. One step in the appeals process is having a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Unfortunately, there may be a case in which an applicant believes that the ALJ treated them unfairly. What can be done in such situations?
First, the applicant can file a formal written complaint. The Social Security Administration (SSA) must receive the complaint within 180 days either of the date that the unfair treatment took place or the date that the applicant became aware of the unfair treatment. The complaint should include the applicant’s name and contact information, the applicant’s Social Security number, the name of the ALJ, how and when the applicant believes they were treated unfairly, what the unfair actions or words were and whether another person witnessed the unfair treatment. Keep in mind that there is a difference between the ALJ making an error and unfair treatment.
If an applicant believes an SSA representative discriminated against them, it is possible to also file a complaint of program discrimination. Discrimination could be based on the applicant’s race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or ability to speak English. Such a claim must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory action. The complaint can be made by filing Form SSA-437-BK. A person can also write a letter regarding the complaint, but it must contain all the information that would be in the form, and the letter must be signed.
Keep in mind that filing a claim of unfair treatment and appealing an ALJ’s decision are two separate things. If the applicant wants to appeal the ALJ’s decision, they must do so within 60 days from the date they received the ALJ’s decision letter. Once the SSA receives the complaint, a person who was not involved in the claim will review it. The applicant will be informed when the SSA closes the matter, or if the claim was included in the applicant’s appeal, then the Appeals Council will address the claim.
The SSA wants to know of these complaints, so they can be addressed appropriately. Moreover, an applicant deserves to have fair treatment in the appeals process. An attorney may be able to help an applicant who wants to file a claim of unfair treatment.