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What is the difference between an ALJ and a Disability Examiner?

Anyone who has pursued a Social Security disability claim knows that the number of acronyms can become confusing very quickly. For instance, did you know that SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity? Another good example is ODAR. Does it stand for Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or is it Office of Disability Approvals and Reconsiderations? Both sound like they could be correct, and they sound very similar, but only one is right. (It’s the former.) In Social Security, even people have acronyms, and two of the most common are DDS Examiners and ALJ’s. So what do they do?

First, let’s get the letters out of the way. A DDS Examiner is a Disability Determination Section Examiner, and an ALJ is an Administrative Law Judge. On the surface, it may appear that both of these individuals have the same job. But in reality, what they do is different, and their roles come into play at different stages.

A DDS examiner is the first of the two individuals to be involved in your case. He or she is a state employee who is tasked with making the initial and reconsideration decisions on your case. A DDS Examiner is responsible for gathering evidence from you and your medical providers in order to prepare your case for a medical review.  They also evaluate the vocational aspects of your case to determine if you can do your past work or adjust to other types of work.  They then prepare the disability determination notice that will be mailed to you.  (Most claims are denied at the initial and reconsideration levels, but the process is far from over, so don’t be discouraged.)

Like a DDS examiner, an ALJ also makes decisions on your Social Security Disability (SSD) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim(s). However, the ALJ makes decisions after you’ve been denied at the initial and reconsideration levels. Also, the ALJ works for a different agency. ALJ’s work for the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR.) While DDS is a state agency, ODAR is a part of the Social Security Administration (SSA). This means that ODAR is a federal agency. Here’s a simple way to remember the difference: a DDS examiner doesn’t see you in person. On the other hand, you can request a hearing with the ALJ in person. Not only will your claim be evaluated by the ALJ, but there is a possibility that your claim will also be evaluated by a vocational expert. More people are approved after their ALJ hearing than approved by the DDS Examiner.

The final thing to remember is that an ALJ hearing will take much longer to schedule than a review by the DDS examiner. There is a backlog right now in the Social Security Administration, causing ALJ hearings to currently take about 18-24 months to occur from the time the hearing is requested.

We realize that this process can be confusing—that’s why a lot of people come to us so we can help them navigate the Social Security claims process. If you’re lost in the maze, give us a call for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-977-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form.