Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Disability Hearings
Securing Social Security disability benefits can be a challenge. Most initial applications are denied, and even fewer are approved at the Request for Reconsideration stage. For most Social Security disability applicants, the ALJ hearing represents the best opportunity to obtain benefits.
The ALJ Process
Requesting an ALJ Hearing
You will have the opportunity to request an ALJ hearing after your Request for Reconsideration is denied. You can make that request by completing Form HA-501 on the Social Security Administration’s website or by writing a letter. You must make this request within 60 days of receiving the denial of your Request for Reconsideration.
You are required to submit additional forms as well, including a Disability Report and a new authorization for third parties such as medical providers to provide information to Social Security. At this stage, you will also submit an Appointment of Representative form if you intend to be represented by another person, including a Social Security disability attorney, at the ALJ hearing.
The paperwork you submit with your hearing request can have a significant impact on the success or failure of your claim. So, it is usually in your best interests to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney before making the hearing request, rather than waiting until you have a hearing scheduled.
Preparing for the ALJ Hearing
In some states, new evidence that you would like the ALJ to consider must be submitted at least five days in advance of the hearing date. This is another reason that it is beneficial to ensure that you have the guidance you need before asking for a hearing, to ensure that you have adequate time to assemble your evidence. In other states, new evidence may be presented for the first time at the hearing.
The exact procedures may differ from case to case, as the ALJ has some discretion as to how the hearing proceeds. For example, the ALJ may decide to hold a pre-hearing phone conference, if he or she thinks that will help move the case along more smoothly.
The ALJ Hearing and Determination
The ALJ determines the order of proceedings at the hearing, including when and how evidence is considered. Under some circumstances, you may have the opportunity to present witnesses at the hearing. Here, too, the ALJ has significant discretion. For example, most ALJ hearings occur in one session, but the ALJ may decide to stop the hearing and reconvene at a later date if he or she feels that important evidence is missing.
An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help prepare you for the possibilities before the ALJ hearing. After the hearing, you will receive a written decision. If the decision is negative, you may still be able to obtain disability benefits by appealing the decision in federal court.
Whether you’ve just received a denial after a Request for Reconsideration and are considering requesting an ALJ hearing, have already requested a hearing or have been denied at the ALJ stage, you have additional opportunities for appeal. The sooner you get knowledgeable guidance and representation, the better.