Steps and Tips for requesting a disability hearing

There are several pages on on the various aspects of Social Security Disability hearings. However, this post will be a bit different and will focus on the steps to take in filing a request for a disability hearing.

When are appeals filed

1. A request for reconsideration is the first appeal available to claimants and is filed after the denial of a disability application

2. If a claimant is denied on a reconsideration (nationwide, more than 80 percent of reconsiderations are denied, on average), then the next appeal to file will be for a hearing. This is formally known as a "request for hearing before an administrative law judge" and the request may be filed following the denial of the reconsideration.

What is the deadline for filing an appeal?

3. The request for a hearing must be filed within sixty days following the reconsideration denial (you actually have five extra days for mailing time, making it 65 days). However, many claimants make the mistake of waiting several weeks following a reconsideration denial to submit their hearing request. This is a mistake because it adds processing time to the case. And, in recent years, this mistake has been compounded by the fact that the disability system has slowed down considerably due to backlogs.

Submitting the appeal

4. The request for a hearing can be submitted by a claimant, by a claimant's disability attorney, or by a claimant's non-attorney representative. Regardless of whoever files the request, though, if a paper appeal has been done then copies of all submitted paperwork should be kept. The request will ordinarily be sent to the same social security office where the claimant filed both the initial claim and the reconsideration appeal.

Note: Claimants have the option of filing the appeal online and Social Security requires representatives to do this for the appeals they file. However, even when an appeal is completed online, it is still a very good idea to print a copy of the appeal so that in the event another appeal has to be done the information is still readily available.

5. At some point following the submission of a request for hearing, the claimant or the claimant's representative should follow-up on the submission of the appeal if it was a paper appeal. In other words, the claimant or rep should call the social security office and verify whether or not the request has been received.

The importance of this cannot be understated. There are situations in which hearing requests have been mailed in and never checked on, only to find months later that the social security office had never received the hearing request. This, of course, is why it is so important to keep copies of all submitted appeal paperwork--so that it can be submitted quickly again, if the need arises, to avoid missing the 60 day appeal deadline.

Doing followups

6. During the follow-up call, if it is revealed that the hearing request was not received, the claimant should make another copy of their personal copy and mail it in. If, on the other hand, it is revealed that the hearing request was received, the claimant should set a follow-up date on their calendar to later verify that the hearing office (formerly known as OHA, office of hearings and appeals, and now known as ODAR, office of disability adjudication and review) has been received the request from the social security office.

6. Disability Hearings often take months (and, sadly, sometimes take years) to schedule. Therefore, the claimant should not call too soon to get the status of their pending hearing request. However, calling the hearing office every three months would be reasonable. Typically, though, the only response given will be something along the lines of "the file has not been assigned yet" (meaning that it has not been given to an administrative law judge yet) or "it hasn't been scheduled yet".

What happens after a hearing is requested?

7. Following the submission of the hearing request, the claimant will ordinarily receive a notice of acknowledgment from the hearing office. However, this will not occur until the hearing request has actually been forwarded from the social security office (to which it was originally submitted by the claimant). The notice of acknowledgment serves as absolute confirmation that the appeal has been received and is pending.

7. Following the submission of a request for hearing, an unrepresented claimant should consider finding representation to assure adequate preparation of the case prior to the ALJ hearing.

8. Depending on the particular hearing office, a claimant may, prior to the hearing itself and prior to the receipt of a notice regarding scheduling, receive an exhibit list. The exhibit list is synonymous with a table of contents for the claimant's hearing file. Individual exhibits that are notated on the list will include documentation regarding prior decisions (the application and the reconsideration appeal) and references to medical evidence exhibits.

Preparation for the hearing

9. Claimants and their representatives have the option of obtaining a copy of their file prior to the hearing. Unrepresented claimants may only learn of their right to review their file at the time of their hearing. However, it it extraordinarily unlikely that this late opportunity can be used to any benefit. For one thing, most claimants will be unable to determine the significance of the material before them, and, secondly, reviewing a file will typically involve consideration, reflection, and the taking of notes, none of which can be accomplished in a few short minutes.

10. Claimants who have their hearing scheduled would be well-advised to ensure that medical evidence updates are submitted to the hearing office prior to their hearing date. In other words, claimants who have been to the doctor or to a hospital need to make sure that the records generated from such visits are made available to the judge who will hear their case. Claimants who are represented can pass this information along to their attorney or non-attorney representative, while unrepresented claimants will need to obtain these updates themselves and mail them in (or hand deliver them) to the hearing office.

11. Records that are delivered to the hearing office should be copied. Again, this is for the same reason that anything mailed to social security should be copied. In the event that what is mailed is not received (for whatever reason), the claimant can easily and quickly send it again. Claimants who submit records that are lost in the mail who did not make copies will be in the unenviable position of having to obtain their records again.

12. Claimants who have a hearing scheduled should make every attempt to obtain a supporting statement from their treating physician. Such statements are often ignored by disability determination services (where disability application and reconsideration appeal decisions are made.

However, administrative law judges place weight on the opinions of treating physicians and, therefore, the submission of such an opinion can provide great advantage to a claimant's case, possibly even forming the foundation for a disability approval.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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