Understanding the Administrative Law Judge Hearing for an SSDI Claim
Claimants requesting their Social Security Disability Insurance have multiple chances to be approved. The first step, the initial application usually takes around six months. If denied, the second step is the reconsideration. This, like the initial request, takes place at the local SSA office.
The second decision appeal will send the claimant to the Office of Hearings Operations and in front of an ALJ. (SSA's Hearing Process, OHO)
Requests for an ALJ Hearing can be made on form HA-501 or online. Usually, these hearing are conducted in person or by video conference. During the global pandemic, these hearing are conducted over the telephone.
The hearing is usually the first time a claimant can present his or her case to someone at SSA. Previous decisions are made primarily from written documentation presented to the Social Security Administration and the claimant’s medical record.
At the Hearing
The hearing is a fact-finding hearing. It is designed for the ALJ to take in all relevant material and testimony to make an informed decision. According to 20 CFR § 416.1444:
Administrative law judge hearing procedures – general At the hearing, the administrative law judge looks fully into the issues, questions you and the other witnesses, and, subject to the provisions of § 416.1435:
Accepts as evidence any documents that are material to the issues; may stop the hearing temporarily and continue it at a later date if he or she finds that there is material evidence missing at the hearing; and may reopen the hearing at any time before he or she mails a notice of the decision in order to receive new and material evidence. The administrative law judge may decide when the evidence will be presented and when the issues will be discussed.
When a claimant walks through the door to the ALJ Hearing, the court has typically already read the medical records and drafted a brief about the findings. The hearing itself is an opportunity for the claimant to explain any missing information, for example residual functional capacity not mentioned in the medical record.
Claimants should be prepared to be specific about their disabilities, how these disabilities affect them and cause them to not be able to work. The claimant should not wonder off topic or go off on rants. There will be bad facts or misleading information in the medical record, claimants should address these issues head on and explain to the court the truth.
The best way to prep for your hearing is to speak with your representative a few times prior to the hearing day.