How to Prepare for your Social Security Disability Hearing

If your case is remanded to the Social Security Hearings office, previously known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA), this could be very good news. According to statistics issued by the Federal government, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) approve over 50% of the claims that get to this level.

Unfortunately, once a Social Security Disability claim is transferred from the local Social Security office to the hearings office, it can take up to a year to get a hearing scheduled. In addition, claimants may hear nothing about their case until the department sends:

  • A confirmation acknowledging that the request for hearing has been submitted.
  • An appointment letter stating when the hearing date has been set.
  • A notice of decision from the hearings office following the hearing. Results may be unfavorable, partially favorable, or fully favorable (it may take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to receive this notice).

Getting an Expedited Hearing

The Social Security Administration has a long line of applicants in queue. This accounts for the time lag between submission of the application and the actual court date. If you are in severe financial circumstances and need your case to be reviewed sooner, you can submit a Dire Need letter. In this letter you must describe the challenges you face. Applicants in danger of losing access to medications or medical care, those who are facing foreclosure or eviction, or those with others dependent on them for financial care may receive an expedited hearing date.

The dire need letter should be a detailed account of your circumstances and should be sent to the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). Copies of notices from medical providers, landlords, utility providers, etc. should be included.

Applicants can also request an on-the-record review (OTR). In an OTR, the hearing office reviews the applicant’s files and records before the scheduled hearing date. In order for the OHA to grant an OTR, all evidence must be properly presented. OTRs are often submitted for applicants who have documentation to support their claim of a severe condition that is worsening.

The Location of the Hearing

Most states have more than one OHA location. Additionally, they may use other facilities throughout the state. Hearings may take place in the Social Security Administration office, a conference room at another facility or in a hotel or bank. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that presides over the case will review the evidence, listen to the comments made by the attorney or non-attorney representative, and hear testimony from medical experts.

On the Day of the Social Security Disability Hearing

When attending a hearing for Social Security Disability benefits, applicants may be surprised by the brevity of the hearings. Typical hearings may last anywhere from fifteen minutes to one hour and are fairly informal in nature. This does not mean that the applicant should approach the hearings lightheartedly, rather that individuals attending hearings need not be intimidated by the process.

When preparing to attend a hearing to review a Social Security Disability claim, applicants should take care to dress well. Jeans and casual attire will not reflect as well as a nice pair of slacks and a clean, pressed shirt or blouse.

A disability hearing with an ALJ is similar to the DDS hearings for recipients whose benefits were stopped after a continuing disability review. The primary difference is that the Office of Hearings and Appeals is run by an ALJ instead of a DDS officer. Also, the attorney or non-attorney advocate and other experts may be present during the initial hearing.

It is important to be on time for your hearing. If your case is being heard in a location that is more than two hours away, consider getting a hotel room in the area to ensure that you are not delayed by traffic or other road conditions. Plan to arrive at least one hour early. The Administrative Law Judge in charge of your case will have a full docket and will not look kindly on applicants who demonstrate a lack of regard for their time. Applicants who arrive more than five to ten minutes late run the risk of having their case dismissed or postponed to a future date.

If you do arrive late for a legitimate reason, you can submit a request for future review of your case by responding to the "show cause" notice. If this happens, be prepared to provide a legitimate reason for your tardiness. These reasons can include traffic issues, car trouble, an ill family member, etc. It will be up to the judge’s discretion to reschedule your hearing based on the reasons you provide.