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

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


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.


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 (CEs), these are typically very short in duration. Often you are sent to a CE just to provide the ALJ with recent medical evidence. For instance, a judge might order a blood test to see if you still have a certain condition like anemia. Or, the judge might need clarification on one aspect of your condition (for instance, whether you have a positive or negative straight leg raise test) before approving or denying your claim.

As you've found out already, having to go to a consultative exam after a hearing can delay a decision on your case. It may take a month or two for the exam to be scheduled, and then another two to six weeks to get the CE report, and then another two months for the decision. (That's why it's important to try to get your own up-to-date medical records before the hearing.)

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 errors, what he probably have meant was that the case has gone to a decision writer. ALJs do not write notices of decisions; 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 editing and 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. For more information, see our article on the durational requirement.

Good luck on your case.

(By the way, sometimes a case does get sent to quality control to get checked for errors, but it's not common. Quality control is done by Social Security's Disability Quality Branches (DQBs). The DQBs look at a random sample of decided disability claims from each DDS office (about 1% of cases). Social Security, a federal agency, practices this quality control because the DDS offices are run by each state, with state employees making decisions. You can read more about it in our article on the disability program's Quality Assurance Review Board.)

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