February 22, 2020

What do I Need to Know about my Administrative Law Judge Hearing?

Your hearing before a Social Security administrative law judge is usually your best chance to win disability benefits.

When you first apply, your claim will be evaluated by a state agency adjudicator.  When you are denied at reconsideration, that denial will also be made by an adjudicator. Adjudicators are employees of your state, typically working for a department of vocational rehabilitation, or similar type of agency.  The federal government pays your state government to handle this initial claim review.

While adjudicators work hard, they are not lawyers or judges and they have limited authority.  As a general rule, adjudicators are tasked with identifying cases where a disability claimant is facing a life threatening or life limiting medical problem.

Obviously you can meet Social Security’s definition of disability by not having the capacity to work a full time job without facing a life limiting medical diagnosis.  Many, many legitimate disability claims will be denied by state agency adjudicators solely because the standard used by the adjudicator is much higher than what the law defines as “disabled.”

If you appeal your reconsideration denial, your file will be electronically transferred back to the Social Security Administration and assigned to a hearing office called an ODAR (Office of Disability and Review).  At this point, an administrative law judge will be assigned to your case.

Unlike adjudicators, judges do not require you to be facing death or a lifelong chronic illness in order to find your disabled.  This is why approximately 40% of denied claims will be approved by a judge.

Your Responsibilities Once a Hearing is Requested

There are four important points to remember once you request a hearing

  1. you and your lawyer will be responsible for updating your claims file after you request a hearing.  Since you may find yourself waiting up to 2 years for your hearing your file will be out of date if it is not updated.  Judges will rarely approve claims if your medical records are not updated.
  2. hearings last about 45 minutes and you (and your lawyer) will be expected to know how the hearing process works.  This includes making an opening statement, presenting testimony, cross examining vocational and/or medical expert witnesses and making an argument to the judge.
  3. approval rates at hearings has been going down.  Five years ago, over 60% of claims were approved at hearings.  Now the approval rate is just over 40%.  Judges are insisting on more documentation and more compelling evidence before they will grant.
  4. SSA’s disability hearing system is plagued with delays.  You will likely find yourself waiting 1 to 2 years for a hearing date, then you will wait 2 to 4 months for a hearing decision.  This is not right and this is not fair but this is our reality – at least currently.

If you have been denied at reconsideration, or if you have requested a hearing on your own, we’d be happy to speak with you about your case.  Please use the form on the side of this age to contact us.