The process involved in applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and getting approved for benefits is similar to the process involving Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). If you are initially denied SSI benefits, you can appeal Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision. Once your hearing has been scheduled, your file will be sent to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for review. Here is a brief overview of the hearing process, along with some additional tips to help you prepare for your disability hearing.
You will receive a notice from SSA at least seventy-five days before your hearing letting you know the date, time, and place of your hearing. The hearing is usually held at a location that is not farther than seventy-five miles from your home. If traveling that distance would be difficult for you, let SSA know that when you submit your request for a hearing or shortly thereafter. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hearings have been done over the phone.
You must let SSA know if you cannot or will not attend the hearing: if you schedule a hearing and do not show up, your claim may be dismissed, and you will not receive benefits. Do not cancel a scheduled hearing unless it is absolutely necessary; since hearings are scheduled two and three months in advance, rescheduling your hearing will cause substantial additional delays.
If you’re thinking of appointing a representative, the hearing stage is the time to do it. Make sure you appoint someone sooner rather than later so that your representative can have ample time to review your file and prepare you for the hearing.
You are allowed to submit new evidence at the hearing stage, so make sure that any updated medical records are submitted to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) at least five business days before your hearing date.
When it is time for you to testify, be as specific and precise in your descriptions as possible. Provide examples that show the ALJ how your disability affects your everyday life. Your advocate will help you by going over questions that the ALJ is likely to ask you and making sure that you can get your point across without rambling.
At the hearing, be prepared to explain any gaps in your medical history. If you did not have health insurance and could not pay to see a doctor, tell the ALJ that. If your symptoms improved for a period of time, and you stopped seeing a specialist, saying so will not ruin your chances of getting approved for benefits, but the ALJ will want to know why you stopped seeking treatment.
Along with you, your representative, the ALJ, and a person to take notes of the proceedings, your hearing may involve a medical expert who can testify about your medical condition and/or a vocational expert who provides an opinion about your ability to work.
Although an ALJ may occasionally issue a bench decision at the end of the hearing, you most likely will not find out whether you’ve been approved for benefits for another month. If you have been approved, you will receive a Notice of Award letter telling you if the ALJ’s decision was fully favorable (he/she agrees with your onset date) or partially favorable (he/she has amended your onset date). If you receive a favorable bench decision, that means you have been approved for benefits at the hearing, but you still have to wait for a written decision before your benefits can begin.