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Tennesseans who are applying for Social Security disability benefits might face additional hurdles because of a recent executive order and some regulatory changes by the Social Security Administration regarding how claims will be handled. The changes involve altering the process by which administrative law judges are chosen and how claims representatives are handled. In the past, the administrative law judges who heard Social Security disability appeals were selected based on merit and only had to have a Juris Doctor and a license to practice law. Under the new system, the ALJs must be appointed by the president, heads of agencies or courts.

Why the Changes Were Made

The changes are due to a Supreme Court ruling that found that the manner in which administrative law judges are hired is unconstitutional. Under the ruling, only the president, courts of law and agency heads have the power to hire administrative law judges. President Trump signed an executive order that allows the hiring of administrative law judges to happen outside of the normal civil service hiring process. The Social Security Administration issued the regulations in an effort to comply with the executive order.

Potential Issues With the Changes

Some people are concerned about the changes and what they might mean. By allowing ALJs to be hired outside of the normal merit-based hiring process for civil servants, opponents of the changes claim that the process will be changed from a neutral one to a political system. They are also concerned that the ALJs may feel that they should rule according to how the Social Security Administration would like them to rule rather than serving as neutral parties who weigh the evidence before them in a fair manner. Other issues that have been raised by opponents of the changes include how claims representatives may be handled. In the past, claims representatives at companies that provide long-term disability insurance have worked to help claimants file applications for SSDI. If they are approved, the amounts that they receive in SSDI benefits are subtracted from the total amounts that they receive in disability benefits from the companies.

Some people worry that the new regulations treat claims representatives in an adversarial way. They are concerned that the new regulations might be used to discourage representatives from helping disabled people apply for benefits.