Why and Where are Disability Hearings Held?

Many people have questions about disability. How can I apply for disability, what a disability hearing is, and who it is that decides whether they are able to receive disability are just a few of the many frequently asked questions concerning disability. There are many reasons why someone would qualify for receiving aid, the most prevalent indicator is that there is something that prohibits them from being able to work in a capacity that would enable them to support themselves.

For those that are unfamiliar with disability hearings, these are the sessions in which people who are wanting to get on disability present their cases to a judge. People have a lot of questions about these hearings and about social security disability in general.

What to Know about Disability Hearings

What is their Purpose

The purpose of a social security disability hearing is to determine whether someone qualifies for receiving disability aid from the government. The social security office recommends that someone applies as soon as they become disabled. Once someone has applied for disability, a hearing appointment is set to determine whether or not someone is going to meet the requirements for receiving disability. A great source for the requirements for receiving disability can be found here by the SSI office.

When and Where are the Hearings

Disability hearings are held at an Office of Disability Adjunction and Review or ODAR. Unfortunately, the average wait time is quite long, which is why the social security administration recommends that someone applies for aid as soon as they become disabled. There are judges at ODAR offices whose job is to hear the cases of people who want to get on disability.  Statistically, it is the last-best chance of being awarded benefits.

To find an ODAR office near you, visit http://www.disabilityjudges.com.

But a claimant can’t just schedule a hearing! Because of the high amount of applicants, the SSA has set up a strict process of 3 stages that have to be followed unless there are some very rare circumstances i.e. terminal illnesses with months to live.  Typically, an initial application is filed first. If that is denied, you can appeal for “reconsideration.” If the government denies that “reconsideration”, then an appeal for a hearing can be filed. For the Phoenix/Tucson area, it is currently taking 18-20 months to get a hearing scheduled. Bottom line, with all of those steps, you’re looking at close to 3 years before the hearing happens. This is why it is critical to find a lawyer/representative who fights to get your claim approved at the initial level. ** Word of caution here, if your representative wants you to fill out the initial paperwork on your own and doesn’t check it before being submitted, you might want to get a different company to represent you.** Having someone walk you through the process makes a big difference on your chances to get approved.  If you’re doing it on your own because they won’t help you, you might want to question their intentions.

The hearing provides a great opportunity for the judge to review all the information in the medical records and more importantly, see the applicant face to face. Currently, judges in the Phoenix ODAR are approving benefits 36% of the time. The North Phoenix ODAR is a bit better at 43%.  For perspective, the national average for all states is 45%. See http://www.disabilityjudges.com for the most up to date statistics.

You Don’t Have to Represent Yourself

Some good news concerning disability hearings is that those who are applying don’t have to represent themselves. There are lawyers and representatives who specialize in helping people navigate this process. This is great news for those who are nervous about trying to present their case to a judge on their own. An attorney who works in social security disability is able to answer your questions and help you present your case to a judge.

Make a Case for Yourself

The person wanting to get on disability will also have a chance to share their case with the judge. It’s important to let the judge know why you are unable to work and to be as clear and specific as possible. The judge may ask questions throughout the hearing, or give you a chance to make a case for yourself at the end. If not, ask politely before the end of the hearing if you could share your case.

Disability hearings are not like court hearings that you see on TV. They are much more informal, and the judges hear many cases every day. So don’t be shy. Tell the truth and give anecdotal information to back up your answers. Yes and No responses are good, but they don’t give the complete story. So err on the side of giving too much information than not enough.  Your representative should remind you before your hearing on what to wear and practice how to answer questions with the judge.

It’s a long time coming to get to hearing.  Prepare wisely and get a lawyer or representative to help you at the hearing.  Taking 3 years to get to hearing is too valuable and isn’t worth lowering your chances of winning benefits by going on your own.