Administrative law judges (or ALJs, for short) are appointed by, and work for, the federal government, delivering rulings in many areas of statutory law. Administrative law judges who work for the Social Security Administration (SSA) render decisions on Social Security disability claims at the hearings level. These ALJs work at ODAR locations (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, formerly the Office of Hearings and Appeals). Most states have several ODAR offices with a number of judges assigned to each.
How to request a hearing
There are three ways that you can apply to request a hearing in front of a judge:
- sending in forms, or
- writing a letter to your local Social Security office.
Please note that you must request a hearing in writing in one of the above ways. While you may call your local Social Security office for assistance with requesting a hearing, a phone call alone is not sufficient to request a hearing.
Your Right to Representation
You always have the right to representation from an attorney to help you in your case.
Appeal Time limits
You have 60 days after you receive the notice of the Social Security Administrations opinion.
When will the hearing be?
It can take anywhere from three months to two years to get a hearing date, depending how long the backlog is in your region. The Social Security Administration is required to give you 75 days' notice of your hearing date; in other words, 75 days before your hearing, Social Security will send you a Notice of Hearing. At that point, you should start preparing for the hearing and submit up-to-date medical evidence (again) to the hearing office.
What happens during a hearing?
Social Security disability hearings are typically short and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. While many SSD claimants mistakenly assume that their hearing will be similar to a court appearance, ALJ hearings tend to be somewhat informal. In fact, disability lawyers usually advise their clients to dress for their hearing as they would normally dress (but no hats, tank tops, or revealing clothing).
CONTACT ALLEven though the hearing is informal, the judge may wear a black robe and sit on an elevated platform. But depending on how far away the applicant lives from the hearing office, the "hearing site" may actually be a conference room at a hotel or bank, and could be held by video conferencing (although you have the right to request an in-person hearing).
A vocational expert (VE) will usually be at your hearing, as well as a court reporter. Sometimes there will be a medical expert there as well. You can also bring witnesses to testify to your limitations.
What happens if you don’t want to appear or cannot appear at your hearing?
At the time you request the hearing, you must let them know in writing, explaining your reasons. Then ask the Administrative Law Judge to make a decision based on the existence along any new evidence provided. But, if the evidence is related to “disability,” then you may want to explain how that disability limits your ability to work. Your presence at the hearing may be beneficial, since you will be able to explain your evidence in person. Sometimes the judge may schedule even if you decided not to physically be there.
It is always recommended that you, and your representative (should you have one) attend the hearing in person. In case you know you cannot make the date of the hearing, you should contact them as soon as possible, explaining the reasons you cannot attend, so they can consider rescheduling. If you decide not to go and you don’t even provide a good reason for missing the appoint, your request may be dismissed.
Are travel expenses covered?
If you must travel more than seventy five miles from your home or office, they may be able to cover some of the costs. Here are some of the rules they specify:
You could be paid for transportation expenses, such as gas for your car, train or bus tickets.
You may even receive payment for meals, lodging or transportation once you get to the city. However, these costs must be approved before the hearing.
The Administrative Law Judge may even approve payment for similar costs for your representative and any witnesses needed at the hearing.
Please make sure you submit a request for payment in writing at the time you schedule your hearing or right after you hearing; otherwise, you risk not being paid for your expenses.
If you need an advance payment before the hearing, make sure you send the written request as soon as the hearing is scheduled.
If you get the advance payment, you must submit an itemized list of expenses, along with receipts, within 20 days after your hearing. And, if you receive more money than needed, you must pay back the difference within 20 days of the hearing.
How can you reduce the hearing process?
If you decide to appoint a representative, do it as early possible. Your may want to give your representative as much time as possible to better prepare for the hearing. The hearings are scheduled up to 3 months in advance, so having to reschedule a hearing due to lack of preparation time may add unnecessary time to a rather lengthy process.
Please do not cancel a hearing unless it is absolutely necessary.
All medical evidence should be submitted before the date of the hearing. Having all the necessary medical evidence submitted before the date can only help expedite the process.
Also, any changes in your address shall be notified immediately.
What to do if you feel you have been treated unfairly by an Administrative Law Judge?
If you feel you have been treated unfairly by an Administrative Law Judge, you should notify them as soon as possible.