If your reconsideration request for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits was denied, you can request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). This gives you an opportunity to present additional evidence, including witness testimony.
However, it can be very difficult to prepare for the ALJ hearing and present a strong case without the help of a Social Security Disability attorney. The lawyers at O’Connor, Acciani & Levy have a detailed understanding of the hearing process and what it takes to have a chance of overturning the denial of benefits.
Schedule a free, no obligation legal consultation today to find out if we can help you. We are prepared to guide you through every step of the process and will not charge for our services unless you are awarded benefits.
Requesting an ALJ Hearing
You must file a request for a hearing by an adminstrative law judge within 60 days of receiving the decision on your reconsideration request. When the Social Security Administration (SSA) counts those 60 days, it will assume you received a reconsideration decision in the mail within five days of the date shown on the notice.
If you file an appeal after the 60-day deadline, you will have to explain the reason you are late and the SSA will consider extending the deadline.
You can request a hearing online through the SSA’s disability appeal website. The site advises you to gather information and documentation about changes in your treatment or your physical or mental condition since you filed your initial claim, such as:
- Name and dosage of any new medications you began taking, including over-the-counter medications
- Names of new doctors you have seen
- Description of new tests or treatments you have undergone, including when and where you were treated
- Changes in your ability to work or perform daily activities
- Medical records and written statements from medical professionals about your condition
You can also request a hearing by writing a letter or printing out the hearing request form and mailing or delivering it to your local Social Security office.
You will also need to fill out the following forms:
The first form allows you to provide updated information about your case, including your contact information, changes in your condition, recent medical appointments, recent tests, prescription medications and a narrative section for additional information you want to provide.
The second form authorizes doctors and hospitals to disclose all medical records related to your medical condition to the SSA. The third form gives the name and contact information for the attorney you appointed as your representative.
Our attorneys can help you collect the information you will need to request an ALJ hearing and walk you through every step of the process, whether you are filing online or completing forms and mailing them in. If we find any new evidence we can submit it to the administrative law judge right away to help ensure it will be considered.
You only have 60 days from the date of your reconsideration request to request a hearing so it is important to contact us as soon as possible. This way we will have plenty of time to gather all relevant information and help build a strong case for why you deserve SSDI benefits.
Travel to the ALJ Hearing
Your hearing request will be sent to the ALJ Hearing Office and you will receive notice of the date, time and location of your hearing at least 20 days before the hearing itself.
In most cases, the hearing will be within 75 miles of your home. If this is a problem, tell the Social Security office immediately so they can schedule a hearing closer to where you live on a different date.
If the hearing is more than 75 miles away, the SSA can pay for your transportation costs, such as expenses for driving your car or the cost of a bus ticket. If you require meals, lodging or a taxi to make it to the hearing, the administrative law judge must approve these expenses before your hearing unless they were unavoidable and unexpected.
If you are paid in advance for these expenses, you must give the judge an itemized list of your costs and receipts within 20 days of your hearing. If you are not paid in advance, you need to submit a written request to the ALJ at the hearing or soon after.
You can also request payment of travel expenses for your representative or any witnesses the judge determines are necessary for the hearing.
If you are unable to travel due to your health, you must submit a doctor’s report when you request a hearing. The report needs to explain the reasons why you cannot travel. It may be possible to schedule a hearing by video teleconference.
Your attorney can review your situation to help you work out any issues you have traveling to your hearing. We will help you pursue any compensation you are owed for travel expenses.
Preparing for the ALJ Hearing
One of the biggest advantages of hiring an attorney is that he or she can prepare you for the ALJ hearing by explaining what you should expect, including the types of questions you might be asked.
What Happens at a Hearing?
Your hearing will not take place in a courtroom. It will likely be held in a small conference room and the judge will not be wearing a black robe like you would see in a courtroom.
The ALJ will explain the issues with your request for SSDI benefits and possibly question you and any witnesses you and your attorney bring to the hearing. The judge may ask other witnesses to come to the hearing, like a doctor or vocational expert, and question them. Your lawyer can also question you and any of the witnesses present at the hearing.
At the end of the hearing, the judge will usually ask if you would like to make any additional comments about the case.
After that, the hearing will be concluded and the judge will send you and your attorney a written decision within about 30 days. There are rare cases where the ALJ will issue a decision at the hearing itself.
If you are not granted benefits, you can file another request for reconsideration. If this is denied, you can file a request for another hearing.
How to Answer Questions
Your attorney can carefully review your case to determine questions you might be asked and the best way to respond to those questions so you can help, not hurt, your case.
Some best practices for answering questions at an ALJ hearing include:
- Answer questions concisely – Be sure to answer the specific question you are asked and try to do so in a sentence or two. If you are unclear on what you are being asked, ask the judge to restate the question or explain in more detail. Try not to ramble on because they may stop listening or just interrupt you.
- Give specifics about your symptoms – Use descriptive words to explain how your condition affects you. For example, if you get worn out after walking say how long you can walk before needing to sit down. Try to use symptoms that are generally recognized to be caused by your medical condition.
- Avoid exaggerating – An important rule of thumb is to just be honest with the judge. For example, if your condition causes daily pain, and you are asked to rate the amount of pain you experience, you probably shouldn’t say 10. Instead, say six or seven and there are times when it escalates to a 10.
- Give a detailed description of your daily life – If there are activities you can no longer do because of your disability, make sure to list them for the ALJ. Be prepared to explain why you cannot do these activities. Be sure to tell the them if you require assistance from a friend or family member for daily activities and explain what those activities are.
- Be prepared to discuss past employment – The ALJ or your lawyer may ask you about your previous work experience and what you did at these jobs. You will need to be prepared to give details, including an explanation for why you can no longer do this kind of work. For example, if you did a job where you regularly lifted things, explain how your condition prevents you from being able to do that.
Our disability lawyers can rehearse your part in the hearing so you are prepared for questions and get practice answering them.
Contact Our Firm For Help With Your SSDI Claim and ALJ Hearing
The ALJ hearing is a very important step in the process of obtaining disability benefits. If you are not successful at this stage, you may have a slim chance of receiving benefits.
This is why it is so important to work with a skilled attorney who is familiar with the process and can help you build a strong case.
Our lawyers take cases on a contingency fee basis so there is no charge for your consultation and we do not collect legal fees unless you are awarded benefits.