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The Social Security Administration’s Informal Policy Statements, Part 2

At the level of an ALJ hearing, the most important informal policy statement is the Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law Manual (HALLEX). It focuses primarily on hearing office procedures and has very little discussion of medical disability issues. HALLEX is sometimes out-of-date, and if it conflicts with policy changes announced by Chief Judge Bulletins, the bulletins prevail. Thus, though HALLEX is important, it may not be authoritative at any given time, as it may have been superseded by a bulletin.

Chief Judge Bulletins are circulated within SSA through an internal network called PolicyNet, and are publicly available at Chief Judge Bulletins are issued infrequently, and at present, there are only 19 that are still active, dating back to July 2007.

SSA policies are also set forth in various memoranda, many of which are eventually incorporated into HALLEX as “temporary instructions” (though they may retain “temporary” status for years). These memoranda sometimes originate from the Chief ALJ and take the form of reminders to the ALJs to follow SSA policy. These reminders provide useful summaries of SSA’s position on various issues, but they are not published on SSA’s website. ALJs are not allowed to cite memoranda, but they are supposed to follow them.

Though these informal policy statements inform how SSA and state agency employees decide your claim, SSA cannot be compelled to follow these informal policy statements according to the Supreme Court (which said that an SSA claims manual was “not a regulation, … has no legal force and does not bind the SSA”).

Self-represented claimants usually overlook this hidden body of law that provides interpretations for SSA regulations and rulings. This is one reason that Social Security disability claimants are more likely to receive benefits if they have an experienced New York disability lawyer helping them with the process.

Though even the most well-informed lawyer’s knowledge of SSA policy is incomplete due to the fact that some important decisions aren’t released publicly, an experienced attorney can draw on his knowledge to help you navigate the confusing bureaucracy and the sometimes contradictory policy statements of the Social Security Administration.

My 20 years as a Social Security administrative law judge and 10 years as a claimant’s lawyer have provided me with the knowledge and experience you need. For a free evaluation of your claim, please fill out the form at the top of this page, or call me at one of the telephone numbers provided there.