What Happens at a Disability Hearing?
The second level of appeals for Social Security disability claims, after reconsideration, is a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. You will have 60 days to request an administrative hearing after you have received notice that your reconsideration has been denied, which provides plenty of time to get acquainted with the process and prepare for your hearing.
This article discusses what happens at a disability hearing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. See "Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing" and "Social Security Disability Appeals" for more information.
When and Where Will My Hearing Take Place?
Some responses to requests for hearings take longer than others, depending on the case load at the time of filing. However, you will receive a notice from the Social Security Administration (SSA) at least 20 days in advance detailing the date, time, and location of the hearing.
These hearings are relatively quick, lasting from 15 minutes to an hour, so it pays to be on time or even early. If you arrive too late to your hearing, you may explain your reasons by responding to a "show cause" notice. Generally acceptable reasons for being late include traffic jams and getting lost. The judge will reschedule your hearing if your explanation is accepted.
Your hearing usually is held within 75 miles of where you live, either in one of the SSA's 161 hearing offices or in a rented venue such as a hotel conference room. If you are unable to travel for health reasons, you may request a video teleconference instead (ask the SSA when you request a hearing).
If you do not wish to appear at your hearing (either in person, via videoconference, or through a representative), you must file a Waiver of Your Right to Personal Appearance Before an Administrative Law Judge (Form HA-4608).
What to Expect at Your Disability Hearing
What happens at a disability hearing generally depends on the complexity of the case. But it can involve a combination of witness and claimant testimony; questioning of you or your representative; and testimony by a vocational expert. Sometimes a medical expert may be present as well.
Upon arrival, a court reporter will swear you in, along with any vocational experts and/or witnesses.
The judge will then introduce your case and explain the issues involved, followed by questions (for yourself and/or any witnesses) regarding your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work. The judge may also pose questions to neutral expert witnesses such as a physician or a vocational expert. The vocational expert usually answers hypothetical questions about the types of work someone with a similar disability as yours could perform.
If the judge has not asked you any questions during the hearing, you may request the opportunity to speak on your behalf (or through your representative). You or your representative have the right to question all witnesses (including experts called by the SSA) and submit evidence.
Although the hearing is informal, keep in mind that everything you and witnesses say is under oath and officially recorded.
Once the judge has had the opportunity to study the evidence and testimony, he or she will issue a written decision and send you (or your representative) a copy of the decision. If your claim is dismissed or if you receive an otherwise unfavorable outcome, you may request a review by the SSA Appeals Council.