What to expect during your ALJ Disability Hearing
Many applicants for social security benefits become disheartened after an initial denial of their claim of disability. In addition to the pain and suffering of the disability and the emotional stress of no longer being able to work, financial worries will often begin to rack up, creating stress and worry. This can cause some applicants to become hopeless. Others often don't know where to turn for help in protecting their rights and obtaining the benefits they deserve.
If you've suffered a denial of an initial claim for SSI disability benefits you aren't alone. Over 60% of initial applications are denied, with certain states having an even higher denial rate of 70% or more. While these statistics may seem disheartening, there's no need to panic just yet. What many applicants don't realize is that there are additional routes available and that initial rejection of your disability benefits claim isn't the end of the road in getting you the resources you're entitled to.
You Must Ask for A Reconsideration Prior to Appeal
After your initial denial in benefits, there are several reconsideration options before you've completely exhausted all of your options. While initial claims denials are quite common, the approval rate for cases that make their way to an appeal hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) is nearly 50%. This means that your best shot for winning your disability benefits case is getting to the appeals level where evidence, witnesses and expert testimony regarding your claim can all be presented.
Before you can get to the appeal, however, the majority of states require that you file for a reconsideration of your initial denial. New evidence is generally not permitted in a reconsideration. Instead, your denial is reviewed by another representative of the Social Security Administration to ensure that no mistakes were made in the original determination. Since this step is essentially duplicative of your initial claim submission, most reconsiderations are denied.
How to Request a Hearing
After your denial of a reconsideration, you are free to seek an appeal of your benefits denial. A representative, such as a disability law lawyer, may also request a hearing on your behalf. Either yourself or your lawyer will file the application for a hearing online or via mail. It's important to note that all requests for hearings must be submitted within 60 days of your denial of reconsideration. While this 60 days is regularly extended five additional days to allow for receipt via postal service of notice of denial, further extensions to this window are hard to come by. Extensions may be granted with good cause, but the situations that qualify as acceptable are narrow and its best to prepare your request well in advance.
Types of Evidence that May be Presented at the Hearing
The varied types of evidence that may be presented at your hearing are one of the reasons a higher percentage of appeals are approved. Unlike in your initial claims process or reconsideration, witness and personal testimony, medical experts and other individuals may testify as to your injury or inability to return to work. You or your legal representative may also question witnesses. Questions must be answered under oath, but the proceedings themselves are far less formal than a typical legal case.
Another difference between a reconsideration and appeal is that new evidence is allowed to be presented. This is especially helpful for applicants who may have been deficient in their initial filing. Additional medical records, statements, pictures or other evidence may all be used to help bolster your claim. For some applicants, this makes an appeal hearing much like a second chance to correct a defective initial filing.
After the Hearing
After your disability benefits appeal hearing, the ALJ will make a decision and inform you in writing. In over 50% of appeals cases the result is favorable and claimants will be granted their benefits. One of the reasons for the increased level of success is that many applicants will enlist the services of a disability law lawyer to represent their interests at the appeal hearing.
A lawyer experienced in the disability application process can often help ensure your submission is complete, deadlines are met and that your case is thoroughly explained to the administrative law judge. If you're considering filing an appeal for a hearing, call the Law Offices of Justin McMurray, P.A. for an initial consultation. Our licensed attorneys will provide a no cost analysis of your claim and can provide deeper insight into what to expect during the claims process, ensuring the best possible outcome for your disability law case.