As an in-house attorney for Freedom Disability, I work on disability cases that have reached the hearing level of the appeals process. I help my claimants prepare for their day before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who determines approval, or not. Getting to the hearing level takes time, and I do get to know my claimants and what they’re going through.
Typically, when a claimant goes before an Administrative Law Judge for a Social Security disability hearing, the claimant does not get a decision on his or her case that day. In fact, it could take months afterwards before we hear whether or not they won.
However, every so often, a judge will issue a bench decision, which means that the claimant will know right then and there that his or her case is approved. The only question at that point is how much the claimant will receive in benefits.
The first time I received a bench decision was at the Detroit hearing office for James. He suffered from a degenerative joint condition after years working in the steel stamping factories in Michigan. James also suffered from clinical depression because of it. Between the denial of his original application and the date of his hearing, he lost his wife to breast cancer. This caused his depression to spiral out of control.
The judge, after hearing James’ testimony, made a quick decision. He found James fully disabled and sent the file back to the local Social Security office for handling of his award. Once I explained to James what that meant, he broke down emotionally, not out of sadness, but out of joy and relief, because he knew right away that he was going to get the financial help he needed to do right by his family.
I could feel his relief too, just by seeing the look in his eyes when we walked out of the hearing room together. That was a good day for both of us. It made my flight home from Detroit go by a lot faster.