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What is a Social Security Disability hearing, and what can I expect when I request a disability hearing?

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Find out about hearing-level appeals, what to expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing, and how lawyers for Social Security Disability can help.


What Is a Disability Hearing?

A Social Security Disability hearing is the second appeal that you can file within the Social Security Administration’s appeal system. The first level of appeal is a Request for Reconsideration. A request for hearing follows a reconsideration denial or an only partially favorable reconsideration decision. For more information about reconsideration appeals, see our article “What Is a Social Security Request for Reconsideration?”

When and Where is a Social Security Disability Hearing Held

Hearings are usually held in person within seventy-five miles of your home. However, if you agree, your hearing might be held by video conferencing. Due to the large number of hearings filed, you will likely have to wait over a year for your hearing. When your hearing date comes up, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, which is the Social Security hearing office, will send you notification of the hearing date twenty days in advance.

How a Disability Hearing Is Different from a Reconsideration

Hearings differ from reconsideration reviews in one very important way: you get to talk to, see, and be seen by, the decision maker. This is your chance to give voice to your claim. At a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge literally hears your case. You and your attorney can not only tell the judge about your limitations but, with some illnesses, the judge can also see your limitations. Additionally, you or your attorney can submit depositions, call and question witnesses, such as your doctors, your most recent employer, and your family and friends who have direct knowledge of your limitations. You or your attorney can also cross examine witnesses, such as any vocational and medical experts that the judge may call.

Attorney Representation for the Hearing

A Social Security Disability hearing is a legal proceeding. Accordingly, it is important to have someone who is experienced in hearing procedures with you at the hearing. In addition to preparing your case for review by the Administrative Law Judge, who’s called an ALJ for short, your lawyer will explain the hearing procedure to you, orient you to the judge, and give you tips on how to participate appropriately in the hearing. He can also help you question any witnesses the ALJ may have requested. And, it is always nice not to go into unknown territory alone.

Another benefit of having an attorney is that you may not have to attend an actual hearing. Instead, depending on the facts of your claim, your attorney may request an “on-the-record” decision. This means that the lawyer writes up a summary of the information in your claim file and makes a written argument for your approval. The Administrative Law Judge then reviews the on-the-record request and, if he can approve your claim, he will go ahead with a decision. If that happens, you don’t have to go to court! If the judge does not approve your claim on the record, you will still get your hearing.

For more information about the Social Security Disability hearing process, you may find it helpful to review the rest of our articles about SSD hearings.

What If the ALJ Denies My Disability Claim

If your claim is denied at the Social Security Disability hearing, you can request review of the denial by the Appeals Council. For additional information, please see our article “What Is a Social Security Appeals Council Review and What If the Appeals Council Denies My Claim?”

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  1. Lisa says:

    How long after being denied a reconsideration can I expect the hearing to take place? My Doctor say’s he does not believe I will be disabled forever. He does not fill out any questionnaires sent to him. He just forwards my records to them. Could this be the reason for my denials?
    The cardiologists, physical therapist, psychiatrist, therapist and caseworker from the county all say I am unable to work with the conditions I have. Degenerative disc disease, four herniated and pinching nerves with bone spurs on most and arthritis in my hips and lower back. Severe anxiety disorder and since I have applied, cardiac issues. Bad genetics there,,,we all start with heart issues around 50,,I’m now 51,52 this year. I have worked Heavy Highway Union Construction as a general laborer/truck driver/union organizer since I was 27. Construction is all I have ever worked, except for a few jobs when I was under 22 when I joined. Does that have any bearing on my judgment because that has been my trade for almost 30 years. If I could bend over and tie my shoes and could get anyone to hire me with my lifting/ bending/ sitting restrictions and special needs of time off for days I can’t get out of bed because of a migraine from my neck discs If you can find a construction company to accept that liability,, good luck!! Or any job for that matter. I tried to go to school when I was still getting state disability and was working with the department of rehabilitation but could not maintain my classes or work due to pain and anxiety attacks. So the DOR dropped me because i could not attend. I tried every avenue I know to be able to work but no one will deal with my special needs. And I can’t say as I blame them :~/.
    Synopses: How long of a span of time between denial of
    reconsideration to Hearing?
    Does the type of work done for so long have any bearing?
    Is my doctor screwing me up with his bad attitude.
    ( Forced to go to county clinic )
    Any help understanding this stuff is greatly appreciated. I live alone in a state far from family and not much of a support system so I need this to survive. May be homeless after I have to tell my ever so patient landlord that I got another denial,,,,,,, :(

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Lisa,

      Because you became disabled when you were age fifty or over, you have to be disabled only from your own occupation so the work you have done in the past has a lot of bearing on whether your claim will be approved.

      It can take a year or more to get a hearing date after you file your request for a hearing. You have multiple conditions, which sometimes makes it difficult to present your full medical picture. I have two suggestions.

      First, if you do not already have an attorney, I suggest hiring one. You can obtain an excellent Social Security attorney by calling Disability Advisor at 1-888-393-1010.
      You do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your retroactive award at the time they send your back pay to you. So, it’s all very easy and risk-free.

      Second, I suggest that you explain to your non-supportive physician that Social Security Disability is for people who are disabled or are expected to be disabled for twelve months. You do not have to be permanently disabled to be eligible. Say that it would be helpful for him or her to make a statement just regarding your current limitations.



  2. Dawn says:

    I had a hearing scheduled for Feb. 18 @ 9 am, by phone. I was contacted twice reminding me, I waited by the phone all day, no call for them. I have call waiting if I was on the other line, however I was not. That day around 3:30 I called back the woman that set the appt., only answering machine, no return call. I have no idea what the H is going on, any ideas, or has anyone else experienced this. Any help or info would help me mentally.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Dawn,

      This is certainly an odd occurrence. First, usually hearings are either in person or via teleconference so that you can be seen–not just by telephone. Second, with the reminders that you received, it seems very odd that the call didn’t come through. I suggest that you continue to try to reach the hearing office to find out what is going on.



      • Dawn says:

        Thank you Kay for the quick response. Will try to call again in the morning. I got the phone hearing due to the fact I cannot ride or drive more than thirty minutes in a car. I fall asleep behind the wheel, and sitting in a car is painful to my back. I figured it would be tele/video conference also, but was called and told it would be by phone, so no call worries me. Thanks again.


  3. Dawn says:

    Yeah…they called me back today…finally. they had a clutch in their system, it did not remind them to call me. So, they rescheduled for April, and apologized for the mistake, and not calling me back.

  4. Draya says:

    Hi Kay, I am a 29 yr old who filed for SSI almost 3yrs ago. I suffer from depression, panic disorder with agoraphobia, severe sleep apnea and chronic lower back pain. I have of course had my initial and reconsideration applications denied and Im now a year in waiting to be scheduled for a hearing.

    I obtained an attorney almost a year ago and the closer I get to this hearing the more nervous I am. Mostly because I wish my attorney would touch basis with me about my health. I mean he does return my phone calls, and I guess thats more important right?

    Also I am nervous because I am so young and I feel like that is a burden on my case in and of itself. I have been doing everything I need to do as far as keeping all of my appts with specialists and staying on top of my meds.
    I just don’t see an end in sight for me with this, especially not a favorable one and I am so tired of waiting and fighting, I just dont have the strength.
    Do you have any suggestions on what else I need to do on my own to prepare for my ALJ hearing?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Draya,

      If you have not already done so, I would write up a summary of your medical condition and treatment for the year since you filed your hearing request. Be as brief as possible while listing continuing conditions and symptoms, new conditions and symptoms, test results, medical providers with address and phone numbers for any that are new, meds you still take and list of medication changes. Also, include a statement about your daily activities and any non-work things you can’t do any longer or have difficulty or need help in doing. If you did not provide all this when you hired the attorney, you should provide it all the way back to your disability date. Then call the attorney and say that you are concerned that your health has not been discussed and that you have written up a summary that you are mailing him. Ask him to call if, after reading the summary, there is anything else he needs to know about your health.



  5. charles says:

    I was in a car accident in 2009 of March where I was T-Boned and I suffered spinal damage. In 2011 I had cervical infusion on four disc in my neck, and the Dr. said I would need the lower operated on as well for the pain that I have been having since this accident. Since then I have tried to work to get insurance, but even with the job being all I have ever done was to paint or be a driver. Well it’s hard to do these things if all I do is suffer from pain. I filed the first time in 2009 when the pain was really bad, but I got denied. Then after the surgery I filed again in 2011 denied again. It has now been 17 months since I filed an appeal and I had to try and work again to get insurance so I could get help with this pain. Well i’m back where I started sitting at home and can’t go to work because of so much pain. Now the new doctors that I’m seeing are talking about a different surgery and more MRI’s being done. I am getting scared but at the same time wondering how long must I keep paying for medicine that’s not helping. So far since 2011 I have spent 3000.00 meds. not counting the bills piling up. What should I do.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Charles,

      I am a bit unclear about where you are in the appeals process. If you are waiting for a hearing date, I suggest calling the hearings office to make sure that your claim has not slipped between the cracks. If you already had the hearing and are waiting for the Appeals Council Review, it could be several more months before you hear anything. If you are waiting for a hearing and don’t have legal representation, it could be a good idea to have an attorney review your claim and appeal and represent you at the hearing. You can obtain an excellent Social Security attorney by calling Disability Advisor at 1-888-393-1010. You do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your retroactive award at the time they send your back pay to you. So, it’s all very easy and risk-free.

      I am not qualified to offer suggestions about your medical care; however, if the medication is not helping, I suggest that you discuss alternatives with your physicians.



  6. susan hall says:

    I h ave been out of work for almost 3 years. I applied for ssdi about 2 years ago. I was injured at work and settled. I injured knee and was digonesed with osteoarthritis. I have worked and held at least 2 jobs most of my life raising 3 children on my own, I also was active coached soccer. I can barley get out of bed, perform simple ADLs. I dont make it to bathroom . I am incontinent mostly bladder. Working and being independant is who I am or was. I have fell into deep depression. I have gone to doctor as much as I could. I have no income at all. I am now living house to house with friend and children. They share me all week. I have a hearing in 2 months. I have no insurance so could not see doctor or pay for meds. Because now I am considered homeless at the clinic they have waived my $25 dollar co-pay. My doctor now thinks I have heart problems because my feet and ankles swell all the time I am short of breath and morbidly obese. A little to late I guess. My question is do I have any chance of winning because I have not been able to go to dr. after workers comp settled. due to having no money? Please help I have lost my life and hope to get it back. I would love to win to get the medicaid and get better and go back to work. Does that happen in these casees? I am only 47 years young.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Susan,

      You should submit a copy of your records from the clinic that is speculating that you have heart problems to the hearing office (or to your attorney if you have one). At the hearing, describe the symptoms that you have and the fact that you are homeless and do not have money for medical care after the workers comp claim ended. The judge may order an examination at Social Security’s expense. If your combination of conditions limits you from performing any kind of work that you are qualified for, your claim will be approved. With regard to returning to work, the Social Security Administration offers several return-to-work incentives including a “Ticket to Work,” which will give you access to vocational rehabilitation evaluation and possibly return-to-work assistance. You will be able to access these services if you are approved.



  7. tess says:

    Hi — I have Stage IV breast cancer but have been stable for years. Was approved for SSDI under Compassionate and TERI when I applied in 2008 then denied last year during review. Kept benefits during appeal. I take hormonal treatments and am on a clinical trial to keep the cancer stable which has side effects and this disease causes me a minimum of 34 days at the doctor every year. Was told that Compassionate and TERI do not apply to reviews, only new applications.

    Now I have a disability hearing on June 6 with a DHO at the SS office….not with an ALJ. My lawyer said he doesn’t want me to go to the disability hearing at the SS office. Doesn’t want me to say anything that might hurt…he just wants to go straight to ALJ where he can represent me. I’ve used him for years and trust him, it’s not about money, he is only charging me flat fee and he only does disability work. But I am uneasy about not going to the hearing. Thoughts?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Tess,

      I am not an attorney so I am uncomfortable second guessing your attorney. Apparently, your attorney expects you to be denied at the DHO hearing if you do not attend, which seems likely to me. I suggest asking Social Security whether your attorney could represent you at the DHO hearing. I would think you would have the right to be represented at any level of your claim. Also, you might ask whether the usual waiting time for an ALJ hearing, which can easily be a year, is also applicable to appeals on terminations.



  8. raynard pruitt says:

    i have 2 questions
    1. now the VE said no to the judges 2 hypotheticals…If denied is that grounds for appeal?
    2. the judge seemed to answer his questions for me..What if anything can you read into that?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Raynard,

      As previously indicated, to be approved the medical evidence in your claim has to support the limitations you claim. If the judge believes that you are as limited as you claim and the vocational expert says that you cannot work in any identifiable occupations with the limitations and restrictions you have, then your claim would be approved. If the judge disregards or does not sufficiently explain his reasons for not considering or accepting the vocational testimony, it could be grounds for appeal. It depends on the reasons for denial the judge puts in the denial letter. I don’t have anything to offer in response to your second question.





  9. Carolyn Brown says:

    I have a hearing in October n I really don’t know what to do. I have been out of work for 4 years because of my back I went to my doctor about my back and he did a xray but couldn’t find nothing. I know that something is wrong I’m hurting every single day and I don’t know what to do. I can’t do nothing my kids have to come over and do things for me and I really hate that. Sometimes I just hurt and do some things because I always did things on my own. Please help me.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Carolyn,

      Please indicate the type of help you are looking for. Are you looking for attorney representation? If you are, you can obtain an excellent Social Security attorney by calling Disability Advisor at 1-888-393-1010. You do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount your attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your retroactive award at the time they send your back pay to you. So, it’s all very easy and risk-free.


  10. Connie says:

    Hi, I’m wanting to find out how long after a hearing in front of a judge does it take for a decision? It’s been over 60 days now. This is for ssdi.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Connie,

      The guideline for the judge to render a decision is sixty days but in some cases it takes longer. You can call the hearing office to find out where your claim is in the process–with the judge awaiting a decision or in letter writing after the decision has been made.


  11. candee says:

    I have been called for video conferencing is this good or bad well its my decision im waiting my advocate to advise me . Are there any advantages to do this. I’m 50 with sarcoidosis and PTSD been out of work since March 2013.I’ve been denied twice .I’m going to be seeing a ALJ

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Candee,

      Video conferencing is sometimes offered it the claimant lives a distance away from the face-to-face venue in the state or to schedule earlier if space is an issue. If it were I, I would request a face-to-face hearing, especially if I had any observable symptoms; however, you should go with the advice of your advocate, who knows you and your case much better than I.


      • candee says:

        Hi Kay I live very close to the place I may have to go, all of my case reviews are very favorable, I have no observable symptoms mostly covered by my clothing

        • Kay Derochie says:

          Dear Candee,

          It is possible that your appeal has been assigned to a judge in another geographic area because the local judges’ dockets are full at present. Again, I suggest that you discuss the issue with your advocate. You could also possibly call the hearing office to ask why you were offered a video hearing. That might help you make the decision.


  12. Jacqueline Davis says:

    Hello i filed ffor social security in june of 2013 and was denied twice. Thing is i don’t understand why. I have provided everything necessary to be approved. Now just in the past year, they have come up with other disabilities. I am anemic,severely vitamin deficient in b12,d and iron,degenerativejjoint diseaseof my spinal facet jjoints, depressed with anxiety and panic attacks, obese so they say,due to have surgery twice in January, i am very forgetful, walk with a cane although i think they’ll change me to a walker,i am in constant pain and i take many medications. I am awaiting my hearing and yes i have an attorney. I was just wondering if there was anything specific that i needto do to pprepare.

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Jacqueline,

      Be sure that your attorney has all your medical providers contact information and a list of places where you have had medical tests and all the prescriptions you have taken since you became disabled. Identify which doctors have identified your diagnoses.


  13. Jacqueline Davis says:

    Sorry it’s alot,i am only 40 years old. I have however been working since i was 13 all the way up to 03/2013. I have had many more things going on but i would like to have opinions as to my situation. Thanks

  14. Nikki says:


    I had my hearing yesterday. The vocational examiner said when asked if someone with my limitations could work, he said no other jobs. Does this mean I will be approved for my claim?

    • Kay Derochie says:

      Dear Nikki,

      If the judge believes that the evidence in your claim file supports the limitations you are claiming, probably your claim will be approved.


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