Can a judge send me to a Social Security physical after my disability hearing?

If the ALJ thinks your medical condition may improve, you may be sent to a post-hearing medical exam.

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Question

I had my Social Security disability hearing back in May. In November the judge sent me for another evaluation. It was less than a physical, really. It is going on February and still no answer.

My disability attorney said that the ALJ sends his decision to a department where it can be looked at for errors and then they send it back to him, where he signs it and it's mailed to me. That would tell me that a decision has been made. When I called Social Security's 800 number I got someone nice enough to look up the status for me, and they told me it says "ND," or no decision. What are the chances that it says denied for SSD and they just didn't want to tell me?

Also, if I was going to be denied, would the ALJ have taken so long looking at my Social Security case, making me wait from May until November, ordering a test, and then making me wait even longer? It seems like issuing a denial would be something that would have quickly been done.

Answer

You've raised a number of different issues, so I'll try to address each in the order you've mentioned them.

First, regarding consultative exams, these are typically very short in duration and tend to be of little value other than providing recent medical evidence. For instance, a doctor might order a blood test to see if you still have a certain condition like anemia. 

Second, regarding your attorney's statement that the administrative law judge (ALJ) sends his decision to a department where it can be looked at for error, what he really should have said was that the case has gone to a decision writer. ALJs do not compose notices of decision; this is the job of a Social Security staff attorney or non-attorney decision writer. The decision writer writes the decision based on your case file and medical records and sends the decision to the ALJ for approval.

Third, personnel at a hearing office or a DDS (disability determinations services) office will generally not disclose a claim decision over the phone, regardless of whether the claim has been approved or denied.

Fourth, how long an ALJ takes to render a decision on a case has no bearing on the potential outcome. ALJs keep a case open as long as they see fit (to allow for record gathering, consultative exams, and so on) before making a decision and closing the file.

It sounds like the ALJ has been waiting to see how your medical condition progresses, to see whether you will meet the 12-month durational requirement or your condition will improve. (It's important than ALJs have up-to-date medical records.) For more information, see our article on the durational requirement.

Good luck on your case.

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