After the denial of a request for reconsideration, a Social Security disability claimant has the right to a hearing before an administrative law judge. It is at this stage in the appeals process that many claimants are ultimately awarded benefits. The right to an appeal is preserved if a request for a hearing is made in writing within 60 days of the date of the reconsideration denial notice. There is an additional 5-day grace period given to account for the fact that the decisions are mailed and may not be received immediately on the date of the decision notice. It is my practice to file my client’s appeal requests as soon as practicable. There is simply no reason to wait until the last minute to file a request for a hearing. The official SSA form used to request a hearing is Form HA-501. The claimant must also then complete a Disability Report-Appeal, Form HA-3441-BK. The request for a hearing can now also be filed online through the SSA website. If the deadline for filing an appeal is missed, an ALJ may make a finding of good cause to accept the late filing. However, it is best not put in the position of having to justify a late filing. A claimant who intends to appeal should do so right after they receive the reconsideration denial.
After a claimant requests a hearing, one will be scheduled at the nearest hearing office to the claimant’s home. There are only limited circumstances in which a hearing will not be held. First, if the request for a hearing is dismissed (for instance, at the claimant’s request), the hearing will not be held. Second, an ALJ may issue a fully-favorable on the record decision without a hearing. Maine attorney Gordon Gates describes the on-the-record decision process at his blog here.
Third, no hearing will be held if the claimant waives a right to hearing. If the hearing is waived, the ALJ will make a decision on the evidence alone. I cannot imagine a situation in which a hearing should be waived. A hearing before an ALJ is not a mere formality, but is a very important stage of the proceedings. It is the claimant’s one chance to present his or her story in person. This testimony can be crucial to corroborate the description of the disabling condition that may be found in the medical records. Usually, doctors do not describe functional limitations in medical records. The claimant’s testimony about how the condition limits his or functioning is necessary for a judge to issue a favorable decision. Often, the credibility of the claimant is critical to a judge’s decision to grant benefits. If the claimant waives a hearing, the ALJ has no opportunity to evaluate the claimant’s credibility. The bottom line is that a claimant should simply not waive the right to a hearing — certainly not without first consulting an attorney.