Making a Request for a Disability Hearing

After an application for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI benefits has been denied by DDS (disability determination services, although the name of the disability agency may vary slightly from state to state), you can file a request for reconsideration, which is basically an appeal to DDS to review your medical and work history again and then reconsider their decision.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of reconsideration appeals (85 percent) are also denied, so most disability applicants will ultimately be faced with a decision: 1) file a new claim; or 2) request a disability hearing.

If you decide to file a new claim, be advised that you will once again have to wait months for your new application to be reviewed, many more months for an answer to a reconsideration appeal, and that the chances of your claim being approved are no better than they were the first time around.

That is why, for just about all claimants, the next best step after being denied on a disability application and then again being denied on a reconsideration appeal is to: request a hearing before an administrative judge.

A judge is statistically more likely to grant disability benefits than a disability examiner; 40 to 60% of all disability cases heard by a judge are approved. The only drawback to the disability hearing is that it takes a long time to get a hearing on the scheduling calendar. The backlog of disability cases waiting to be heard varies depending on the area in which you live, but a year-long wait is not abnormal, and two years is the norm in some places.

The other thing to strongly consider if you are requesting a hearing is that your chance of being approved for benefits rises significantly (20 percent) when you have legal representation at the hearing. Using a disability lawyer or non-attorney rep who is familiar with concepts and terminology that must be presented in order to satisfy the legal definition of disability is strongly advised.

After either you or your disability attorney requests a hearing, there is nothing much a claimant can do but wait for the case to come up. During some of that waiting period someone in the administrative hearing office will 'work up' your case to prepare it for adjudication, marking pieces of evidence in the file as exhibits to be referred to at the hearing. Preparing a case for hearing in this manner is essential, of course, but is not really why it takes so long for a case to appear before a judge. The real reason is simply an increase in the number of disability cases being filed and resultant backlogs.

One thing that can be done by either the claimant or his or her legal disability representative upon requesting a hearing with social security is to call the hearing office to check the claim status. You need to make sure that social security has received your request and transferred it to the hearing office--it is not unusual for claimants to discover that they have been waiting for months to receive a hearing notice when the request for the hearing was never even received. Make a call to both the social security office and the hearing office a couple of weeks after filing a hearing request to protect yourself from this particular source of frustration.

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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