Inside the ALJ Hearing at ODAR
As many Social Security Disability claimants know, most disability applications are denied with the initial application and appeal. Most cases that are approved are actually awarded at the hearing level where the claimant attends an Administrative Law Judge Hearing at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) with his/her representative. In the Atlanta area, there is currently an average of 24 month waiting period from the time you ask for a hearing date until you actually attend a hearing. By the time your hearing date approaches, you will have plenty of questions about what will go on during the hearing. To help alleviate some of that anxiety, the following is meant to help answer some questions and give you a better understanding of what to expect.
On the day of your hearing, we always have our clients and their hearing representative meet one hour prior to the hearing at the hearing office. The purpose of this is to prepare the client for his/her testimony regarding their limitations and symptoms so that it is fresh in their mind right before the hearing.
Once you are in the hearing room, there are typically five individuals – you, your representative, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the hearing reporter, and a vocational expert (some hearings also include a medical expert). The hearing room is a small room conference room. You will be sitting directly in front of the judge across a long table. Your representative will be to one side, and the vocational expert will be to the other. The hearing itself is informal and not open to the public; however, you will be placed under oath.
The purpose of the hearing is to have an open conversation with the judge regarding your symptoms and how they limit you from going back to work. The judge and your representative will ask you questions in order to get your testimony on the record. The testimony is recorded through audio only – so be sure to speak up! The purpose of the vocational expert (VE) is to give occupational testimony by characterizing your past work by physical and mental skill level. The VE also gives testimony based off of the functional limitations that are found in your file and stated at the hearing. He/she will answer hypothetical questions for the judge and your representative. Basically, this means that questions will be posed to the VE about whether or not you can perform certain job functions in particular jobs.
The length of the hearing varies from case to case (and also depending on the ALJ); however, it is safe to say that it can last anywhere from 30-45 minutes. It is unlikely that the ALJ will have a ruling at the end of the hearing and generally takes 60-90 days to issue a decision. This is assuming all the evidence is in the file at the time of your hearing – which is why it’s important to keep us updated on your medical treatment. We want a complete record before we go before the judge so they can issue a quick decision!
Unlike what you see on television, these hearings are much more informal. You do not dress in a suit or formal clothing. We typically recommend our clients to dress as if they are going to the doctor’s office; jeans and a t-shirt will do just fine. But we do ask that you cover up any tattoos and do not wear a hat.
We know that it can still be very intimidating, so please feel free to contact us with any concerns you may have.