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What Is a Social Security Administrative Law Judge Disability Hearing?
When you decide to file a claim for Social Security disability benefits, it’s important to understand that the process has numerous steps, which can keep you fighting to win your benefits for several months. That’s because the disability claims process goes beyond just filing the initial paperwork, which is reviewed by a claims examiner who makes a decision on whether or not you should be granted benefits, and how much. If you are denied, there is a whole other system of appeals you must go through if you want to get your claim approved — and even then, success is far from guaranteed.
This is not to discourage you from seeking disability benefits, but rather to inform you of what lies ahead so you can approach your claim with a solid strategy from the very beginning, so that hopefully you don’t have to go through all of these steps and can get your benefits faster. In fact, knowing these facts should make you feel better about applying, as you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to deal with the Social Security Administration and receive the benefits you’re asking for.
In particular, it’s important to understand a certain part of the appeals process known as the disability hearing, which takes place before an administrative law judge and is the third step in the process. After filing your claim and being rejected, you must first file a request for reconsideration — which repeats the same review process as your initial claim, but with a different claims examiner. If you are denied benefits at this step of the process as well, you can request a disability hearing with an administrative law judge, who will hear your case in court and make a decision there.
When it comes to requesting a disability hearing, there are a few things you should know about the technicalities and procedural elements. To start, the SSA requires that you file paperwork requesting a hearing within 60 days of your first appeal being denied, which means that you must act quickly in order to make sure that you don’t miss your window of opportunity; otherwise, you would not be able to file a new claim unless your circumstances changed and you believed you may be able to be approved this time around.
Second, when submitting your request for a disability hearing, prepare yourself for what can be a pretty significant wait — up to 12 months or more. However, the wait might be worth it, as disability hearings generally have a higher rate of approval for people seeking benefits than the initial application or request for reconsideration levels; while only 30 percent of people are approved initially and 12-15 percent are approved upon appeal, 40 percent of claimants who request a disability hearing end up winning their claim; that number jumps to 65 percent if you have a lawyer present.
So what exactly happens at a disability hearing? There, your lawyer presents evidence of your disability before a judge, who will rule on the evidence available and decide whether to award you benefits or not. The judge will consider recent medical records, school records (in the case of a mental impairment), work records (like statements from employers or earnings documents) and statements from your physician that describe your residual functional capacity — your ability to continue working (or lack thereof). Make sure that when you file a request for a disability hearing, you have this evidence prepared to have the best possible chance of being approved.