If your request for reconsideration of a denied claim for Social Security Disability benefits is also denied, you may request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The good news is that more than 60% of cases heard by ALJs result in approved claims. The not-so-good news is there is a wait of up to a year in Houston to get a hearing. The wait is longer in some other U.S. cities.
The hearing phase of the four-step appeal process is where most applicants are successful in reversing a decision on a denied claim. Since it presents your best shot at getting a denied claim reversed, it is important to know what happens at a hearing and how to prepare for it.
Administrative law judges are appointed by, and work for, the federal government. To become an ALJ, you must be a licensed attorney with a minimum of seven years of experience in litigation or administrative law. Attorneys seeking to become an ALJ must complete a four-hour written exam and an oral exam before a panel.
The ALJ presiding at your hearing cannot have played any role in the original decision or reconsideration of your case. The ALJ may request additional information or clarification on information that has been provided concerning your injury or illness.
At the hearing, the ALJ will question you and any witnesses. Witnesses may include medical professionals or vocational experts who have been asked by the government or you to testify. If you hire an attorney, the attorney will be allowed to question witnesses as well. Applicants are allowed to present new information that can strengthen their case.
You will be more comfortable entering into a hearing if you have an idea what questions will be asked. For the most part, ALJs are not trying to “trip up” applicants through their line of questioning. Rather, they are seeking the most information possible to make an informed decision.
The ALJ will review all the information that is included in your claim, so the more complete that is, the fewer holes there should be to fill in. The ALJ wants to know about your medical condition, treatments and long-term prognosis, as well as how it affects your daily activities and your ability to work. You may be asked about your vocational training, your personality traits and how your injury or illness has affected you psychologically.
Your lawyer can run through the line of questioning with you ahead of time with the intent that you will not be caught off guard by any question.
An ALJ can render a bench decision on the day of the hearing, but more likely will provide a written decision within 30 days of the hearing. You will receive the decision by mail.
Statistically, you have an increased chance of having a denied claim reversed at a hearing if you are represented by a lawyer. An experienced disability attorney knows how to present your case and can prepare you for an ALJ hearing so you are a more effective witness on your own behalf.