What is an Administrative Law Judge?
When you initially apply for Social Security disability benefits in Louisiana, the initial decision is made by Disability Determination Services (DDS), which is a State agency that applies Federal regulations.
If you receive an initial denial notice from DDS and then file an appeal (or request for review) of your Social Security disability claim, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) assigned to your area will hear your case.
In Lafayette and most of Acadiana, an ALJ from the ODAR in New Orleans will hear your appeal. The ODAR covering Lafayette changed in January 2015; Lafayette was previously under the jurisdiction of the ODAR in Alexandria.
The change in ODAR jurisdiction is significant for Acadiana residents applying for disability benefits in several ways. Both Alexandria and New Orleans are below the national average in processing time (defined as the average number of days until final disposition of the hearing request). At the end of fiscal year 2014, the national average processing time was 460 days. Alexandria’s average processing time was 288 days, which ranked as the fastest in the nation. And New Orleans’ average processing time was 399 days, which ranked 45th out of 163 hearing offices in the nation. Thus, the change in jurisdiction will likely cause longer processing times for Acadiana residents.
In addition, due to the greater distance from New Orleans to Lafayette than from Alexandria to Lafayette, ALJ’s from New Orleans are less likely to appear in person in Lafayette for hearings. This will likely lead to an increase in the number of video teleconference (VTC) hearings; in a VTC hearing, the ALJ appears by video on a television monitor rather than in person.
In selecting an attorney to represent you in connection with your disability claim, it is important to consider the recent change in ODAR jurisdiction. You should ensure that the attorney you select is familiar with recent change in jurisdiction and the practices followed by the ALJ’s in New Orleans.