In a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, there are two levels of appeal:
- Request for Reconsideration, and
- Request for a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
After these levels of appeal, a claim could potentially go through the Appeals Council and even into Federal Court. However, most cases stay within these first two levels of appeal.
A Social Security Disability claim starts with an Initial Application. If the Initial Application is denied, you can appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision by asking for a Request for Reconsideration. If your claim is denied again, the next level of appeal is the Request for a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Because most cases are denied at the first two stages, it is extremely common to have a claim go to hearing.
Once a request for a hearing has been filed, an applicant will typically wait between 12 and 16 months for a hearing date. During that period of time, almost nothing is going on at the Social Security Administration. Although you have been accustomed to periodically receiving updates or requests from the SSA, you will hear almost nothing until the month before the intended hearing date. At that point, the SSA will contact you to schedule a hearing.
Hearings take place in the administrative law system. That is not a state court or a federal court—it is an administrative court which is part of the executive branch of the federal government. The hearing is an opportunity for you to go before an Administrative Law Judge and make a case for why you should be awarded benefits. However, like a regular court room, there are procedures and rules that must be followed. For this reason, it is unadvisable that an applicant go to the hearing without a representative. The rules allow for applicants to present their case at the hearing without representation, but I would caution against it.
The hearing proceedings are no place for an applicant to represent him or herself, as there is a lot going on which can have a major impact on whether you are awarded benefits. The judge will ask about your symptoms and functionality, he will ask about your past work, and he will attempt to assess your believability. The judge will categorize your work, DOT codes will be thrown around as titles for jobs. He will ask about your specific capacities to stand, lift, twist, bend, sit, and manipulate with your hands and fingers, all of which must be found in your medical records. Finally, a judge will ask a vocational evaluator, who will be present, whether you could return to a past job, and if not, what job you could perform. Then, depending on the vocational evaluator’s testimony, the applicant is allowed to cross-examine him.
These are just a few of the many things going on at the hearing. In order to manage the hearing the best way for your claim, you really need an attorney to represent you at the hearing.
If you are thinking about requesting a Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge or have already done so, contact the attorneys at the Summit Disability Law Group at (801) 845-0056. Like the best law firms, we offer a free consultation and disability rights analysis so that you can find out how we can help you and make the most informed decision about your case.