It can take the Social Security Administration six months or more to issue a decision on an initial application for disability benefits. In about two-thirds of those cases, the SSA denies benefits and tells the rejected applicants how to appeal if they disagree with the decision.
As we discussed in our last post, the “request for reconsideration” is the first step in the appeals process for applicants who disagree with the determination that they’re not disabled. Today’s post deals with the next step in the disability appeals process — the hearing before an administrative law judge.
Statistically speaking, the ALJ hearing is the best opportunity for applicants who haven’t been awarded benefits yet to change that and to win their case. The bad news is that in addition to the year or more it takes to get to this step, it can be another 18 to 24 months before the ALJ hearing actually happens.
To keep your appeal and benefits start date alive, do not fail to request this hearing within 60 days of the day you receive the reconsideration decision. You or your authorized representative will likely need to complete several additional forms in conjunction with this request. Once received, but before the hearing, the SSA may also ask for additional information regarding your claim.
As for the hearing itself, it will usually be held less than 75 miles from your home. While most applicants still attend these hearings in person, some hearings are conducted with the help of video conferencing technologies. Either way, you will have the opportunity to speak directly with someone who has the authority to make a decision about your claim for the first time.
During the hearing, the administrative law judge will ask you questions about your medical condition and other relevant areas of concern. You will also be able to bring in your own witnesses (whom the judge may also question) and introduce new evidence. Likewise, if a medical or vocational expert from the SSA attends the hearing to challenge your case (not likely, but possible), you or your representative will also have the right to question them.
Given the stakes at this stage of the appeals process (and the opportunity for success) — it doesn’t make sense to attend an ALJ hearing without legal representation. Working with an experienced attorney can help prepare you for this hearing and may even be able to speed up the process in some cases.
Source: SocialSecurity.gov, “The Appeals Process,” Sept. 25, 2012