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SSI & SSDI FAQs »

Hearings: The ALJ Level

The hearing is generally informal (only you, your attorney, the judge, assistant and a medical or vocational evaluator will be in the hearing room), and you will be seated before the judge with your attorney.  Your attorney, the judge, or both will direct questions to you and any subsequent medical or vocational witnesses who may testify after you.

When your hearing is over, the Court will “close the record,” and your attorney will let you and the Court know that the attorney and you are getting up to leave by asking, “May we be excused now?”  When the Court acknowledges this, you both may get up and leave the hearing room.

Just like a surgeon after surgery, your attorney should discuss any questions you may have subsequent to the hearing and await your favorable decision.   If the decision is fully favorable, as is in the vast majority of the cases we accept, you will not need to meet with your attorney again.  If your decision is partially favorable or unfavorable, a fourth meeting with him or her will be scheduled to discuss the trial record and appeal to the next level and into Federal District Court.  If your case is reversed and remanded, you will see your attorney once again for another pre-trial work-up and at your rehearing should your case be remanded for trial by the Federal District Court Magistrate or judge who reversed the Social Security Administration judge’s unfavorable decision.

1. After I file my Request for an Administrative Law Judge Hearing, what will happen next?

After you file your request for hearing, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will send you a letter confirming their receipt of your file.

2. What happens at ODAR from that point on?

One generally has to be patient at this point. ODAR will review your file to see if an immediate favorable decision is possible without holding a hearing. If not, your case will be prepared for a review by an Administrative Law Judge or more likely by his stuff for hearing. Then, your case will be scheduled for hearing.

3. How long will settling my case for hearing take?

Each jurisdiction is different. One can count on between 18 and 28 months generally to have a hearing. The SSA is trying very hard to shorten this wait, but as the Baby Boom generation and the Bush economy begin to have an effect on this country, the numbers will be tough to crunch without help from Congress.

4Will anybody tell me anything?

You will probably receive notice of your hearing date in the mail. If you have an attorney, the SSA normally contacts your attorney to set a hearing date and to make sure that there are no problems with having obtained evidence in your case. Otherwise, you will be given Notification of the Hearing Date in the mail, approximately 20 days in advance of your hearing.

5. Will I or my attorney be notified in writing about the date, time and place of my hearing?

Yes, you will. If you have an attorney, the attorney will also be notified.

6. How will I know if my attorney has been notified?

There will be a “cc” at the bottom of the last page with the name and address of your attorney or his or her firm at the bottom under the “cc”.

7. What if my attorney is not copied on the Notice?

Call your attorney immediately and send your attorney a copy of your Notice.

8. Can I waive the 20-day Notice and get my hearing earlier?

Yes, but this is advisable only in so far as your case filings and evidence is up to date. Judges like to make decisions based on a complete record so that your file is not languishing in their offices waiting for medical records and reports. Otherwise, you and your attorney may waive the 20-day notice in writing to get an earlier hearing slot.

9. Is there anything else I must do to expedite my hearing request?

Yes, To expedite your hearing request, be sure to send in all available medical and non-medical evidence inclusive of third party statements about your condition as soon as possible, as this additional evidence could make the difference in an ALJ making an earlier decision in your case. The same is true with the utilization and submission of Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) forms found here.

10.  Once my case has been reviewed and accepted into the Social Security Hearing process, what happens next?

Once your request for hearing is received by Social Security and forwarded along with your file to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), ODAR will send you a letter confirming receipt of your case.

ODAR will review your case to see if an immediate favorable decision without holding a hearing is possible.  If not, your case waits its turn to be prepared for hearing.  The file is prepared for and reviewed by and Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and then scheduled for hearing.  Because of the large number of cases ODAR receives each month, this process can take up to 24 months or sometimes even more.

You will receive notification of the hearing date in the mail approximately 20 days in advance.  If you have an attorney or other person representing you, he/she will also be notified.  Contact your treating Physicians to make sure you have provided your attorney with all updated medical records.

10a. Will I have to attend the hearing in person if the case is set for hearing?

If your hearing is set you will be required to attend your hearing and testify in person. In some rare circumstances this may be done telephonically.  The Judge will ask you questions or ask your attorney to ask you pertinent questions.  Your testimony and your work as well as your medical history will be reviewed by a Vocational Expert (VE) and/or a Medical Expert (ME), who is a medical doctor.  Your attorney (as we are at Mike Murburg P.A.) should be skilled at trial, understand vocational grids, rules and job requirements and be adept at cross-examination, so that he can cross-examine these expert witnesses and allow them to give testimony in your favor.

10b. Will I be told at the hearing if I am successful or not?

The ALJ will normally make his/her decision shortly following the hearing, providing no additional evidence has been requested. It is rare that “On The Record” decisions are announced upon the closing of your hearing.

10c. After the close of the hearing, what happens next?

The decision is then written, typed, corrected, and finally signed by the ALJ.  It takes between six to eight weeks for the Judge to issue the decision. Sometimes unfavorable decisions in complex cases will have longer than favorable decisions.

In summary, you can expect to wait 24 months from the time you file your request until you actually have your hearing.  You can expect to wait another 2 months until you receive your decision in the mail.

10d. Will the SSA discuss my case results with me after the hearing?

Since the decision is not final until written notice is sent, the outcome of the hearing can- not be discussed with you over the telephone prior to your receipt of a written decision.

10e. Can I expedite a decision?

To expedite your decision, prior to the hearing be sure to send in all available medical and/or non-medical evidence, or have your Attorney/Representative do so as soon as possible.  This additional evidence could make the difference in the Judge deciding your case sooner.  So you must keep your attorney updated as to all of your physicians and listing facilities and tests as your case progresses.

At Mike Murburg P.A. we are committed to providing quality public service and doing everything possible to help your case.  Submitting additional evidence will enable us to process your hearing request more quickly.

11. How should I prepare for a hearing?

There are many different ways to prepare but the following are the cardinal rules for getting your case prepared.

  1. OBTAIN AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE FROM THE SSA WEBSITE. This is a general rule for all dealings with SSA.  At the hearing level, the majority of claimants are represented, and the SSA encourages its employees to cooperate as much as possible with requests for information or assistance from representatives.  However, every personal contact with hearing office personnel precludes the employee from performing other responsibilities relating to other hearing requests.  Every five minutes that is saved on individual claims converts to thousands of saved hours that can be devoted to processing other claims.
  2. TIMELY SUBMIT THE FORM SSA-1696 AND FEE AGREEMENTS. If applicable, obtain and submit withdrawals and waivers from prior representatives to avoid possible delay in payment.
  3. ESTABLISH A GOOD WORKING RELATIONSHIP WITH HEARING OFFICE STAFF AND MANAGEMENT. Your attorney should participate in periodic group meetings with the Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge and Hearing Office Director in the offices in which you practice.  Open dialogue allows both representatives and hearing offices to exchange suggestions as to how to improve service in the local area.
  4. YOU OR YOUR ATTORNEY SHOULD TIMELY ALERT THE HEARING OFFICE OF ANY CHANGE OF ADDRESS OR PHONE NUMBER FOR EITHER HIMSELF OR THE CLAIMANT. This would help reduce duplication of effort by hearing offices when notices are sent to either individual.
  5. YOU OR YOUR ATTORNEY SHOULD SUBMIT UPDATED FORM SSA-827 WITH THE REQUEST FOR HEARING.  If the hearing office needs to request information on short notice for a possible on-the-record (OTR) decision or a dire need review, or for any other reason, it is very helpful to have updated release forms already in the file.
  6. EVEN IF A CASE IS PENDING AT THE HEARING LEVEL, A FORM SSA-1695 SHOULD BE SUBMITTED TO THE SSA FIELD OFFICE, NOT THE HEARING OFFICE. This form deals solely with payment to the representative and contains personal information, including a representative’s social security number.  If a SSA-1695 is received at a hearing office, it is immediately forwarded to the SSA field office for processing.  Submitting this form to the SSA field office initially would significantly reduce the time hearing office staff spend forwarding documentation, and reduce the likelihood that the form will either be lost or improperly associated with the claimant’s file.

12. What steps need to be taken to go before an Administrative Law Judge at the Hearing?

Prepare your case and prepare yourself. Under 20 CFR §§ 404.935 and 416.1435, claimants have an existing duty to submit additional evidence with a Request for Hearing or within 10 days of submitting the request. Therefore, the SSA encourages all representatives to review the file and submit evidence as early in the hearing process as possible. Do not wait until the case is scheduled to submit evidence. ODAR is aggressively screening cases for potential “on the record” situations and updated evidence is helpful in identifying cases that may be reversed without the need for a hearing. At the same time, they also encourage representatives to be mindful of hearing office resources required to burn CDs, and ask that representatives not request excess copies of CDs and do all follow-up by using the electronic records express or ERE to log on to the claimant’s file for review.

13. Can I use the Internet to file my medical records with the SSA or can only an attorney’s office do that for me?

At present, only an Attorney or Representative can take advantage of electronic filing. Once your file is received at your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (hearing office), your attorney will be able to submit medical evidence and correspondence via the electronic records express system (ERE). Social Security disability files are now being processed electronically. This system is helping to streamline and expedite the disability application process and may be available to individual litigants shortly.

14. What is the first step in filing records electronically in the ERE System?

In order to use the ERE system, you must first have a copy of your electronic disk from Social Security and the bar code for your file from ODAR. To order the bar code and electronic disk, one can fax his or her local ODAR a request for either, or, or both. Make sure to include the claimant’s name and social security number on the request.

15. Why do I need a copy of my SSA file on Disk or view my file through ERE?

The Judges at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review request that duplicate records not be submitted to the hearing office. One can use the social security disk to check what medical records the hearing office has already received in the case. It is also helpful to check the disk to make sure that the records submitted thus far have made it to the claimant’s electronic file.

Warning! It will take some time for the hearing office staff to get you a copy of the electronic disk. It is also not encouraged to order these disks frequently. The hearing office staff is more than happy to help their claimants, but excessive use of this practice can lead to them rationing the amount of disks a claimant or representative can order. In our experience, the hearing office will try to limit the total number of disks they will send to either one or two disks total.

16. Why do I need a copy of my bar code?

You will need a bar code to have access to your file. Each bar code is unique to a person’s file. When you send medical evidence in to the disability ERE system, the barcode directs the evidence directly to your electronic file.

17. Once I have a bar code, how can medical evidence be electronically submitted?

Once you have a bar code for your file, there are three ways to submit medical evidence (or any other type of correspondence) to your Social Security file.  They are as follows.

  1. Electronic Fax: The first process by which you can submit evidence electronically to your file is by electronic fax. All you need in order to send records this way is a facsimile cover sheet that includes your name, Social Security number, description of the attached documents, number of pages being submitted, and the time range for the records you are sending. You then place the bar code on the very top of the documents you are sending, and then fax the submission to the electronic fax number of your local hearing office (ODAR). Make sure to keep the fax confirmation page with your submission.
  2. Electronic Records Express Website: In order to submit evidence by the ERE website, you must first have an account with the ERE system. In order to create an account, you can contact your local ODAR office and speak with the person in charge of handling their ERE technology. At the present moment, only attorney and non attorney representative businesses may create accounts with the ERE website. Once you have created an account, you must scan the records you are going to send to the ERE website onto you computer as a PDF document, and save the document (including its cover sheet) onto your computer, into the claimant’s file. To sign in to your account go to: https://secure.ssa.gov/acu/iresear/login?URL=/apps9/ERE/home.do Enter your User ID and Password. Once you sign in to your account, click on Send Response for Individual Case.Step 1 (Destination and Request Information): In this screen you will enter the information found on your bar code into their equivalent slots. Once you have completed this page, press Continue.Step 2 (Attach and Upload Files): In order to upload a file to the ERE website, it must have no punctuation in its title what so ever. You must have the file copied to the desktop on your computer in order for it to not have any punctuation in the file when you upload it. Remember to keep a copy of it in the respective file in your client database. Once the file is copied to your computer’s desktop, on the ERE screen, press the Browse button, and select the file you want to submit from your desktop. Then you must press the Select Document Type, and a drop list will show you which options you can choose from. The option you choose will dictate what further information you need to complete on the page. For all medical evidence you must provide the website with the earliest date in the medical records and the latest date in the records you are submitting, as well as the treating source’s name, and a brief description of what you are sending. If you have more than one submission, you can select the Add Another File button, and repeat the file attachment process. When you have added all of the submissions (up to 8 at a time) press the Submit button.Step 3 (Confirmation): Once your files are received, it will show you a confirmation page. Press the Print button, and make sure you print as many copies of the confirmation page that you have submissions. Keep a copy of each confirmation page with each submission in your file. Pleas note that large files will take a little longer to send so please be patient.
  3. Mail: If the electronic fax number or internet are not working you can submit your documents to a special electronic mailing address in London, Kentucky provided with your bar code. In order to do so, you first must copy the documents you would like to submit, as well as your bar code. Along with a cover page that includes your name, social security number, description of the attached documents, number of pages being submitted, and the time range for the records you are sending, and the copy of your documents, place the copy of your bar code on the very top of your submission. Mail this packet, unstapled, to the London, Kentucky address provided with you bar code. Each ODAR office will have a special mailing address in London, Kentucky. Keep the original documents and a copy of your cover sheet in your file.  Send the package Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested so, if the SSA has no record of the records being sent, you do.  This could become important later on in your case.

18. What are the rules on submitting evidence?

The following are the cardinal rules on submitting evidence in your case and for your hearing.

DO NOT SUBMIT DUPLICATE EVIDENCE.  This is a problematic and time consuming issue that is dealt with at the hearing level and significantly delays preparation of cases for hearing.  Hearing office staff often spend several hours on any given case sorting out duplicate evidence.  The sooner a case is prepared and exhibited, the sooner the case can be scheduled.

  1. SUBMIT EVIDENCE AS FAR IN ADVANCE OF THE HEARING AS POSSIBLE, USING ELECTRONIC RECORDS EXPRESS. Up to 200 pages at one time can be faxed into the electronic folder using the fax number and bar code supplied with the Acknowledgment of Hearing notice.  However, we do recommend smaller submissions when possible (less than 30 pages), as smaller exhibits open more quickly.  Early submission (more than 10 working days before hearing) allows hearing office personnel to exhibit the evidence and ensures that the claimant’s copy of the file includes a copy of all the evidence that has been received.  This also gives the ALJ time to review all the evidence and helps to ensure that all relevant evidence is provided in a timely manner to the experts scheduled to appear at hearing.
  2. BEFORE FAXING EVIDENCE, CHECK TO ENSURE THE EVIDENCE YOU ARE SUBMITTING MATCHES THE CLAIMANT. This simple precaution would significantly reduce the time hearing offices spend contacting representatives and re-associating evidence with the appropriate file.
  3. MAKE SURE THE BARCODE IS THE FIRST ITEM FAXED IN ORDER TO ENSURE PROPER IDENTIFICATION OF ALL RECORDS. If you do not have a barcode for a particular case, please ask the hearing office to provide you with one.  Bar codes may be photocopied and used more than once.
  4. SUBMIT A COVER LETTER WITH THE EVIDENCE IDENTIFYING WHAT IS BEING SUBMITTED AND THE DATES OF THE EVIDENCE. This will assist hearing office staff in identifying duplicates and in exhibiting the records.
  5. AVOID SUBMITTING VOLUMINOUS EVIDENCE AT THE LAST MINUTE. Submitting evidence last-minute does not provide sufficient time for hearing office staff to associate the evidence with the file or provide the ALJ and experts adequate time to review the evidence.
  6. WHEN FAXING EVIDENCE FROM DIFFERENT SOURCES INTO THE ELECTRONIC FOLDER, SEPARATE SOURCES BY PLACING A BAR CODE AS THE FIRST DOCUMENT FOR EACH SOURCE AND SUBMIT IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.  This assists hearing office staff in reviewing the evidence for duplicates and exhibiting the records.
  7. DO NOT SUBMIT MEDICAL EVIDENCE WITH NON-MEDICAL DOCUMENTS SUCH AS APPOINTMENT OF REPRESENTATIVE FORMS OR FEE AGGREMENTS.  Medical and non-medical documents should be submitted separately.  Because these documents are included in different sections of the folder, more time is required to separate documents if the medical and non-medical documents are submitted together.

19. What if after I have done all the above; are there are issues to address and supporting evidence concerning those issues about which I should be aware?

Yes, you should be aware that there are reasonable guidelines as follows.

  1. WHEN POSSIBLE, OBTAIN A MEDICAL SOURCE STATEMENT FROM A TREATING SOURCE WHICH IDENTIFIES THE LIMITATIONS IMPOSED BY THE CLAIMANT’S IMPAIRMENTS.  SUBMIT WITH SUPPORTING EVIDENCE OR DIRECT ATTENTION TO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE ALREADY IN THE FILE. Treating source statements can greatly assist an ALJ in assessing Step 3 of the sequential evaluation and the claimant’s residual functional capacity.
  2. DEAL WITH EMPLOYMENT (SUBSTANTIAL GAINFUL ACTIVITY, UNSUCCESSFUL WORK ATTEMPTS, SHELTERED WORK ENVIRONMENTS, ETC.) OR EARNINGS ISSUES IN A PRE-HEARING MEMORANDUM OR AT THE HEARING.  Be sure to distinguish long term disability, vacation, or bonus pay that may appear as earnings after alleged onset.
  3. DEAL WITH WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ISSUES IN A PRE-HEARING MEMORANDUM OR AT THE HEARING.  If there has been a settlement, provide appropriate proof. This would include any written stipulations that you or your counsel signed and any Order or Adjudication of a medical or indemnity claim or settlement.
  4. SUBMIT CONCISE PRE-HEARING BRIEFS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. This assists an ALJ in preparing for the hearing. We have found the records of our company at www.disabilitymemo.com very useful.

20. What is an “On-The-Record” (OTR) request?

An “On-The-Record” request is a request made before or at the beginning of trial for which the claimant or his/her attorney sends this request to the court stating that the file is complete and the manifest weight of the evidence shows that the claimant is entitled to benefit under either a medical rule or vocational grid.

20a. Why should I as for an OTR?

It will or may expedite a favorable decision on your behalf.

21. How does one submit “On-The-Record” (OTR) Request?

The following are the cardinal rules for submitting an “On-The-Record” request for benefits.

  1. CLEARLY LABEL AN OTR REQUEST AS “OTR REQUEST” AND SUBMIT AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE (BUT ONLY WHEN A REQUEST IS APPROPRIATE).  OTR requests are not appropriate in every case and should only be requested when a favorable outcome is supported by the evidence in the record.
  2. IDENTIFY EVIDENCE THAT SUPPORTS THE OTR REQUEST. OTR requests should include a concise summary at the beginning of the brief outlining the argument. This should be followed by a more detailed explanation specifically directing the reviewer’s attention to evidence supporting a favorable decision.
  3. MAKE SURE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS ONSET DATE. Onset issues are the most frequent reason an OTR request cannot be granted.
  4. USE FIT TEMPLATES TO SUBMIT OTR REQUESTS.  A CD of these templates is available from hearing office personnel. You may also use ERE and file to exhibit number and page where supportive evidence is found.

22. What is an “Attorney Adjudicator” and how will such a person affect my case?

Prior to your hearing, Attorney Adjudicators review and screen cases for an OTR. Currently, attorney adjudicators have the authority to issue a fully favorable decision OTR when it is warranted. If you are contacted by a hearing office attorney regarding substantial gainful activity or onset issues in a particular case, discuss the matter with the attorney to see if the issue can be resolved without the need of a hearing.

23. Do the rules change when working with Attorney Adjudicators who will be handling my case before this case is set for hearing?

No.  Prior to your case being assigned to a judge, judicial economy dictates that an experienced Social Security attorney working for the Social Security Administration will work on your case first to determine if you are entitled to benefits.  This way, the work backlog for busy administrative law judges is reduced significantly.

WHEN CONTACTED, YOU SHOULD WORK WITH THE ATTORNEY ADJUDICATORS AND DO WHAT THEY REQUIRE TO EXPEDITE DECISIONS IN APPROPRIATE CASES.

24. Does Social Security handle cases of Dire Need, Compassionate Allowances, Terminal Illness and individuals who may be involuntarily confined differently than typical Social Security disability cases?

Yes.  Special rules requiring special handling apply when it comes to submitting information on cases involving these subjects. You may want to read on to find out more.

25. How can I submit Dire Need, Terminal Illness requests, or information regarding incarcerated individuals?

If you want to submit these requests the following rules apply.

  1. NOTIFY THE HEARING OFFICE WHEN THE CLAIMANT HAS A TERMINAL (TERI) CONDITION, IS HOMELESS, OR IS IN DIRE NEED, AND INCLUDE APPROPRIATE DOCUMENTATION SUPPORTING THESE ALLEGATIONS.  Notifying a hearing office of these circumstances can significantly expedite the processing of a case, if the allegation is supported.  The criteria and reference links for critical case processing can be found in the provisions in HALLEX I-2-1-40 (Critical Cases).
  2. WITH THE REQUEST AND DOCUMENTATION SUPPORTING THE ALLEGATION, SUBMIT UPDATED EVIDENCE SUPPORTING THE CLAIM FOR AN OTR REVIEW.  If a dire need case can be awarded without the need of a hearing, this works to the advantage of the claimant and the hearing office.
  3. IF CLAIMANT IS INCARCERATED, PROVIDE THE HEARING OFFICE WITH THE ADDRESS OF THE FACILITY AND THE RELEASE DATE.  Many difficulties arise when an individual who has requested a hearing is incarcerated.  For example, if an in-person hearing must be conducted, there are varying rules and procedures depending on the facility in which the claimant is incarcerated.  Some claimants are transferred after a hearing has been scheduled but before the hearing has been held.  For these types of reasons, it is very important that the hearing office is informed at all times of the status of an incarcerated claimant.

26. If my hearing has been set, Can I reschedule my hearing if I have to?

Yes.  You will need to have good grounds, like illness, sudden and unexpected lack of transportation, or the death of a close family member.  You can also request that your hearing be rescheduled to give you enough time to hire an attorney and to have that attorney prepare your case before your hearing.  Be careful though as administrative time is scarce and by rescheduling your hearing, you are taking time away from the judge in which he or she could be hearing your case or the case of another person who has been waiting a long time to have his or her case heard. So, if you need to continue your hearing, let the people at ODAR know at once your time on the ALJ’s hearing Docket can be properly used.

26a. What if I move out of state?  What happens to my hearing?

If you move out of state while your claim is pending, you should let Social Security know in writing.  This can be a bit tricky though, if your case is at the ALJ level. If you move, your case may likely be transferred to the state or city where you have begun to reside.  This means that your case very well may be moved back on the docket in your new jurisdiction, and you will have to wait even longer for your hearing.  If you have an attorney, he or she will be getting notice for you, so if you move, let your attorney know where you are.  If the move is temporary, there is no need to transfer your case from the jurisdiction in which it is pending.  If you change your residence and decide that this new residence will be your permanent residence, then that is another matter.  If you have an attorney or representative and can travel back to the jurisdiction where your case is pending, then your case will stay on track, and you will not lose any time waiting because of a transfer to another jurisdiction.  If you transfer your case, there may be another result depending on the average hearing time prevailing in each of the relevant ODAR offices.

27. How does a claimant go about rescheduling hearings?

In order to reschedule your hearing, you will need to call the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review where your case is pending and speak to the scheduling clerk or secretary to get your date changed.  Do not postpone your hearing unless it is essential. Be flexible with providing dates and times for hearings, and request postponements in writing in a timely fashion wherever possible. When you have already agreed to the time of a scheduled hearing, avoid requesting a postponement for a conflict that arises late.

28. If I have a child and go to an Administrative Law Judge hearing, what should I do?

If the case does not involve your child’s disability leave the child at home with someone, as the child normally will not be allowed in to the hearing room with you.

WHEN REPRESENTING A CHILD, BE PREPARED TO HAVE SOMEONE AVAILABLE TO LOOK AFTER THE CHILD, IF POSSIBLE, AFTER HE OR SHE TESTIFIES OR DOES NOT TESTIFY. Representatives should avoid keeping the child in the hearing room when it will disrupt the hearing process or is otherwise not appropriate.

29. I have heard that I can have my case expedited by agreeing to a video hearing.  Should I have my case heard by videoconference by a judge who does not preside in my home jurisdiction or court?

Video hearings can be a mixed bag. As a practitioner, I personally do not like them for any numbers of reasons. First, you have the absolute right for your case to be heard live by a judge in your home state and jurisdiction. That “Right” is available and important one. We know that you have been waiting for quite some time to have your case adjudicated, but we firmly advise against your case being heard by an ALT at the SSA National Center or out of state judge via a video link.

Technical difficulties aside, we advise against such hearings.  Studies (especially those done by Stanley Milgram, et. Al., at Yale and the progenies of those studies) have shown that persons who are outside of the actual physical presence of someone who can determine their reward or punishment are more likely to have negative results applied to their persons when they are not actually physically present with them.  Though it may be apparent to you that a judge wants to help with your appeal by agreeing to hear your case by video link out of state or out of jurisdiction, from our experience these non-live hearings result in fewer favorable decisions and result in more lengthy appeals to the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia after a disability video hearing.  This, thereby extends the years one will have to eventually wait for his or her Social Security Disability/SSI benefits.

By way of example, a video hearing is inadequate to show a judge how a claimant’s cane handle may be well used or the end worn down.  In a video conference it is impossible to convey a claimant’s depression or full credibility to a judge via the video link, no matter how good that link is.  More importantly, the video-judge will probably not know of our firm’s well-earned reputation that the judges we regularly appear before have of us or of our appellate record reversing judges’ denials of benefits.  By choosing to have your hearing heard via video link with all its setbacks, one in essence gives this up and loses not only the “home field advantage” but his or her rights to a live hearing and a higher chance of winning their case.  We advise against it.  Even though it may be tempting, and though relief may seem to be closer, the chances of success are illusory at best and lessened.

30. What sort of place is the actual office where my case will be heard?

Your case will be heard in a hearing room. This room is usually about 14 feet wide by 20 feet long. An ALJ will be presiding at the head of the room. He or she most likely will be dressed in a black robe. There will be a hearing monitor who will assist the ALJ in taking your testimony down. There may be a Vocational Expert there who will listen to your testimony and give expert opinions on your employability in a competitive national labor market. There may also be an expert Medical Evaluator to consider your medical records, testimony and symptoms to render an opinion as to whether you meet a Medical Listing or can do certain tasks that impact on your employability.

31. What should I do after an Administrative Law Judge hearing?

The following are suggestions for proceeding after your hearing is complete.

  1. SUBMIT POST-HEARING EVIDENCE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE WITH A WRITTEN BRIEF IDENTIFYING HOW THE EVIDENCE SUPPORTS A FAVORABLE DECISION.  This will assist the ALJ in reviewing the records and appropriately focus attention on the information supporting your arguments and result in the issuance of a timely decision.
  2. WHENEVER POSSIBLE, YOUR ATTORNEY SHOULD SUBMIT FEE PETITIONS WITHIN 60 DAYS OF A DECISION OR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER SERVICES HAVE BEEN TERMINATED OR WITHDRAWN. Submitting fee documents within this time frame will have a significant impact on the time a representative waits for payment.  This reduces the number of follow-ups necessary to determine if a fee petition is going to be submitted and allow the ALJ to act on the fee authorization at an earlier date.  It reduces the likelihood that funds withheld for direct payment will be released to the claimant and reduces the wait time if administrative review of an authorized fee is requested.

32. This sounds complicated.  What about my right to representation in my disability case?

You can have a representative, such as an attorney or licensed non-attorney representative to help you when you do business with Social Security.  SSA will work with your attorney/representative just as they would with you.

For your protection, your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you without first getting written approval for SSA.  However, your representative may accept money from you in advance as long as it is held in a trust or escrow account.

Both you and your representative are responsible for providing SSA with accurate information.  It is illegal to furnish false information knowingly and willfully.  If you do, you may face criminal prosecution.  That is why you need to complete your paperwork TRUTHFULLY for your attorney to submit.

33. What if a claimant dies while his or her claim is pending before the Social Security Administration?

If a claimant dies while the claim is pending, his or her spouse or child, parent, Administrator/Executor of the estate or other related person will have to file a “Notice Regarding Substitution of Party Upon Death of Claimant” or Form HA-539 with the SSA. This will notify the SSA of the death and their wish to pursue the claim on behalf of themselves, relatives or the estate.  This may be important when there are back due benefits or large medical bills which can be paid by Medicare, should the deceased claimant be found disabled.  This later case is especially true when the disabling condition is the actual cause of death cited in the claimant’s death certificate.  So, if you can, you should get a copy of the death certificate with the cause of death noted.  In most states, a death certificate with the cause of death included must be asked for specifically as the specific cause of death is customarily left off. SO MAKE SURE THAT YOU OBTAIN THE CERTIFICATE OF DEATH WITH THE CAUSE OF DEATH STATED, NO EXCEPTIONS.