The disability process is long, and it can sometimes take two years or more for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make a final decision in your case. Fortunately, depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to get a decision faster by asking that an "attorney advisor" make a decision instead of an administrative law judge (ALJ).
To speed up the decision-making process, Social Security allows an attorney advisor (an SSA employee) to approve certain disability claims prior to the hearing date. To be eligible for an attorney advisor review your claim, you must have filed a request for a hearing after being denied disability benefits. Also, Social Security requires one of the following reasons for asking an attorney advisor to review your case.
Here are some examples of situations where Social Security might send a claim to an attorney advisor for review.
When Social Security chooses a case for a pre-hearing review, the attorney advisor will review the medical records. The attorney advisor may request more medical evidence or might even schedule a conference with you in order to get more information, if the decision is likely to be favorable. After reviewing the new information with the other evidence in your file, the attorney advisor may issue a favorable decision.
If the attorney advisor decides to issue a "fully favorable" decision in your case, this means you will be granted disability going back to the date that you claim your disability began. The attorney advisor will send you (and your legal representative) a letter that explains the basis for the decision. (For more information, see our article on the difference between fully favorable and partially favorable decisions.)
If the attorney advisor decides to issue a partially favorable decision in your case, this means you will receive disability benefits starting at a later date than you claimed your disability started. In this case, the procedure changes. Your hearing in front of the ALJ will go ahead as scheduled, unless you advise Social Security, in writing, that you want to accept the attorney advisor's decision and that you wish to withdraw your request for a hearing.
Sometimes it's in a claimant's best interest to accept the partially favorable decision instead of risking that an ALJ will deny the claim altogether. This might happen when the file doesn't have enough medical evidence to approve a claimant was disabled a year before the application date. You should speak to a legal professional to decide the best way to handle a partially favorable decision.
If the attorney advisor can't issue a favorable decision in your case, you'll have a hearing in front of an ALJ as scheduled. The ALJ will read the summary that the attorney advisor drafted during the review process, which can be valuable to the ALJ and help expedite the hearing process. Learn more about how to prepare for a hearing.
If you think your claim falls into one of the above scenarios where it makes sense to request an attorney advisor opinion, you may want to consult with an SSDI legal professional or law firm to see if requesting an attorney advisor opinion can help you get approved more quickly.
Updated October 29, 2021