Social Security Disability Hearings – What To Expect At Your SSD Hearing in Richmond, Newport News, or Norfolk Virginia
If your request for reconsideration of your initial claim is denied, we recommend that you request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). You must file your request for a hearing within 60 days of the date you received a reconsideration denial.
The bulk of our Virginia Social Security Disability practice focuses on representing disabled adults and children at their Social Security hearings. We win the overwhelming majority of cases we take to hearing. That’s why we almost always recommend requesting a hearing if your reconsideration appeal is denied.
This article explains what to expect at your Social Security Disability hearing in Virginia and what you can do to improve your likelihood of getting approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income at hearing. If you have questions about your hearing or are looking for legal representation, contact Newport News disability lawyer and SSD attorney Richmond Corey Pollard for a free, no obligation consultation. We’re here for you and your family throughout the SSDI process.
How to Request a Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge in Your Disability Case
You must complete and file three forms to request a Social Security Disability hearing before an ALJ:
- Form HA-501-U5: Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge
- Form SSA-3441-BK: Disability Report – Appeal
- Form SSA-827: Authorization for Source to Release Information to the Social Security Administration
Your written request for an ALJ hearing must include:
- Your name and social security number
- The reasons you disagree with the reconsideration denial
- A statement of any additional medical and vocational evidence you plan on submitting
- The name and address of your disability representative
You can file your request at one of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) local field offices or your attorney can file the request electronically.
Who Is an ALJ and What Does He or She Do at My SSD Hearing?
An ALJ is as an attorney who works for the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).
ODAR is separate from Disability Determination Services (DDS), which makes decisions on your initial application and request for reconsideration. It is responsible for holding hearings, issuing decisions, and reviewing appeals.
ODAR oversees a large group of ALJs who preside over disability hearings and make decisions on appealed determinations for SSDI benefits and SSI. There are ALJs in every corner of the nation and several in Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke, Charlottesville, and DC – which are regional ODAR offices.
Compared to judges who handle workers compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits, ALJs have limited power. Their power is limited to disability hearings and deciding whether to affirm or overturn DDS decisions denying benefits.
But this doesn’t mean you should take the ALJ lightly. Because there is no jury in SSD hearings, the ALJ alone will make the decision on your case.
Difference Between ALJs and DDS
On average I represent clients before at least six different ALJs each month. In my experience each ALJ has his or her own style. Some are claimant friendly, while others deny most cases they hear. Some ask lots of questions, while others don’t ask any questions at all. Some will ask your attorney to make an opening and closing statement or to write a pre-hearing brief, while others won’t. This is why it’s important to hire an experienced disability lawyer who has experience representing claimants in front of the ALJ assigned to your case.
Most ALJs pay little attention to the DDS determinations. They do not have to give your prior denials any weight and will tell you so at the beginning of the hearing.
Time and Place of Your SSD Hearing
The SSA will set the time and place for your hearing. Then it will send you notice of the hearing at least 75 days before the scheduled date. This is a recent change. In the past you would receive only 20 days notice.
Social Security Disability hearings are held throughout the country. But most of our clients’ hearings take place in Richmond, Newport News, Norfolk, Farmville, Danville, Roanoke, Washington DC, Hagerstown, and Baltimore.
ODAR’s Richmond hearing office is located on the 4th Floor of 801 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23219. You can reach Richmond ODAR by calling 877-405-3665. Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Richmond ODAR presides over several Social Security field offices in Virginia. It hears claims filed in Chesterfield, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, Richmond, and Winchester. It also hears claims filed in Hagerstown, Maryland.
ODAR’s Norfolk hearing office is located on the third floor of 5850 Lake Herbert Drive, Norfolk, VA 23502. Its telephone number is 866-931-9167. Norfolk ODAR presides over disability hearings for claims filed in Accomac, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Salisbury, and Charlotte Hall.
If you are unable to make it to the hearing on the scheduled date due to lack of transportation or a previously scheduled medical procedure, make sure to notify your attorney as soon as possible so that he or she can file an objection for good cause with ODAR.
What Happens Between the Date I Request an ALJ Hearing and the Actual Disability Hearing?
Several things may happen between the date you request a hearing and the date the hearing takes place.
Prehearing Case Review
After you request a hearing but before the hearing takes place, the SSA may conduct a prehearing case review if:
- You submit additional medical or vocational evidence;
- The SSA obtains additional medical evidence such as a consultative examination report; or,
- There is a change in federal law governing disability claims or a new regulation such as when the SSA began giving greater weight to 100 percent disability ratings from the Veterans Administrations
If a prehearing case review does not resolve your claim then the ALJ may decide to hold a prehearing conference. Your attorney can request a conference but most ALJs will deny the request.
At the conference the ALJ may discuss his or her need for additional evidence such as a statement from your treating physician. The ALJ may ask your attorney to obtain a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment from your treating doctors so that he or she feels better about approving the claim.
The ALJ may also try to negotiate an amended onset date of disability. This is especially true if you turn 50 or 55 after filing your initial application for disability benefits.
In the past prehearing conferences were common. They have become rare, especially in the Virginia disability hearing offices. This is likely because the backlog of cases does not give ALJs much time to hold prehearing conferences.
Attorney Advisor Decision
Another legal proceeding that no longer happens as often as it once did is the issuance of an attorney advisor decision.
The SSA employs many Attorney Advisors across the country. Their job is to reduce the workload for the ALJs. Depending on your age, education, and medical impairments your file may be pulled by an Attorney Advisor and reviewed. If the Attorney Advisor thinks you should get approved for benefits then you will receive a favorable decision in writing.
If an Attorney Advisor reviews your claim but does not issue a favorable decision, your case will be scheduled for a hearing before an ALJ.
Types of Disability Hearings
Not all Social Security Disability hearings are held in-person. Sometimes the SSA will hold your hearing by video conference instead. This raises the question – are video hearings better than in-person hearings when it comes to your SSD hearing?
First, video hearings are typically scheduled faster than in-person hearings. This can be critical when you have already gone months, or even years, without income and adequate medical care. Getting finality with the process may be important to you so that you can move on and assess your options.
Second, video hearings are usually scheduled at a location that is more convenient for you and that is closer to your residence. This means you and any witnesses that you may call will not have to travel as far for hearing.
5 Tips for Doing Your Best at the Social Security Disability Hearing
By the time you get to your Social Security Disability hearing, you are probably going to be feeling a lot of things. You might be having a bad day because you are hurt or sick. You might be angry at Social Security because it has denied you benefits and because it has taken so long for you to get a hearing. And you might be nervous at the thought of having to go before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and testifying.
Below is a list of things I tell my clients a few weeks before hearing so that they are mentally prepared:
- Always tell the truth. Even if you think an answer will hurt your case, it is better to be honest. The judge wants to see if you are credible. If you lose credibility by lying on one answer, then the judge will not know if you are telling the truth about other issues.
- Give real-life examples when telling your story. Talk about actual things that you used to do but no longer can do because of your medical condition. For example, if you used to play sports with your child but can no longer go outside and do so, tell the judge.
- Know what you are physically capable of doing. You should know how much you can lift, how long you can sit in one place without taking a break, how far you can walk, and how long you can stand without the help of a cane or other ambulatory device. In most cases the judge is going to ask you about these activities. By thinking about these activities beforehand, you can give a detailed answer to the judge that is better than saying, “I don’t know.” You must prove your case. You cannot count on the judge giving you the benefit of the doubt.
- Do not repeat diagnoses given to you by your physician. If you are represented by a Social Security Disability lawyer, then the judge should have your medical records. The medical records will contain all your diagnoses. The judge is more interested in hearing about your daily struggles and the types of symptoms you experience.
- Relax. Your lawyer is there to help bring out the important details in your case. Don’t worry if you forget to say something.