While millions of Americans qualify to receive disability benefits each year, more people will initially have their claims denied than approved. On average, about one third of Arkansas claimants (just over 30%) are approved at the initial stage — leaving the other 70% with rejection notices from the SSA, or Social Security Administration. Ultimately, this information means that if you file a disability claim in Arkansas, you are statistically more likely to be denied than approved.
Fortunately, disqualification is neither final nor permanent. If your claim was turned down, and you disagree with the SSA’s findings, you can appeal the decision. Doing so often leads to a disability hearing before an administrative law judge, or ALJ.
How do you begin the process, and what can you expect at the ALJ hearing?
Reconsideration Before Your Hearing
Before you reach the ALJ hearing stage, you’ll need to pass through an intermediate phase of the process referred to as Reconsideration.
When the SSA denies your claim, you will receive written notice, which should include a detailed explanation of the rationale used to make the decision. At this point, it’s time to initiate the appeals process by submitting a formal request for Reconsideration. The SSA must receive your request within 60 days of your rejection, so it’s best to submit early to avoid accidentally overstepping a deadline.
Reconsideration is precisely what it sounds like: a claims examiner will be tasked with “reconsidering” the information on your rejected claim. Unfortunately, the Reconsideration phase historically has a poor prognosis for claimants. The national average for approval at this stage is only about 13%, and in Arkansas, that figure is even smaller at just under 9%. In other words, approximately 90% of Reconsideration requests yield a second denial.
However, you shouldn’t feel discouraged: the approval rate increases dramatically during the next stage of the process, called the ALJ hearing.
Before the ALJ Hearing
If your claim is rejected at the Reconsideration stage, your attorney will file a request for an ALJ hearing. It’s important to be aware that it may take several months for your hearing to be scheduled.
However, you can use this time delay to your advantage by practicing and preparing. It is critical to be as prepared as possible, because following a denial, the ALJ hearing represents your very best chance of being approved for a monthly award. In fact, you are more likely to be approved at this stage than during any other part of the process. Statistically speaking, Arkansans have almost an exactly fifty-fifty chance of receiving an approval or rejection from the ALJ.
You can help prepare yourself for the hearing by:
- Reviewing your previous rejections and the reasons given for denials.
- Requesting a medical source statement from your physician.
- Gathering as much comprehensive medical evidence as you can. To be as strong as possible, evidence should also be as recent as possible.
If you have any new evidence to add, such as a recent lab test result, you should submit your materials to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) prior to your hearing date, which you will be informed of several weeks to a month in advance.
Your attorney will also help you prepare by going over the sorts of questions the judge may ask you.
The ALJ Hearing
While the hearing is relatively informal, typically taking no longer than about an hour, it is important that you treat it seriously and arrive on time wearing appropriate courtroom attire.
The ALJ hearing is presided over by an administrative law judge. In addition to the judge, your attorney, and yourself, other attendees typically include a doctor and a vocational expert, or VE, whose role is to answer the judge’s questions about what sorts of tasks a person claiming your type and degree of disability could realistically be expected to perform in the workplace. If you wish, you may also bring a witness who can testify to the disabling effects of your impairment. Needless to say, the judge will also question you and your attorney.
After the hearing concludes, you will receive written notification informing you of the judge’s decision, usually within several months.
There are a few possible outcomes based on the judge’s decision. Ideally, you will be approved, at which point you can typically expect to start seeing benefits within a month. But, even if you are denied again, you can continue with the appeals process by moving on to the Appeals Council. As with Reconsideration, you must submit your request for a review by the Appeals Council within 60 days of receiving the notice of rejection after the ALJ hearing.
To schedule a confidential case evaluation with an experienced Arkansas disability lawyer, call the Law Practice of Ken Kieklak at (479) 316-0438, or contact us online today. If your claim was denied, we’re here to help.