While most cases are approved at this level, this is also the stage that has the longest wait. Because so many people have to have a Judge review their case before they are awarded Social Security disability benefits, this is the place where your case sits the longest. Often it is difficult to do much to push your case along at this level, because there are so many other urgent cases in line in front of you.
Your attorney can submit new evidence and written statements on your behalf in hopes of securing a favorable decision with a hearing. Efforts are being made by the Social Security Administration to process claims quicker, including holding video hearings and using Senior Staff Attorneys to adjudicate claims prior to a hearing. However, your case can still take approximately two years to make its way through the system.
If a hearing becomes necessary in your case, you will be required to attend the hearing with your attorney. The hearing is informal and not held in a traditional courtroom. A Social Security hearing is private, no one from the public can observe. However, a recording of the hearing is made to preserve the record in case you need to appeal.
It’s generally not a good idea to have family or friends testify on your behalf because a Judge would expect your witness to say what they could to help you. Besides, this is a disability determination. It’s the medical evidence associated with your case and the opinions of your doctors that is most meaningful.
At the hearing, the Judge will hear your testimony and consider the evidence associated with your file. The Judge may ask a vocational expert and/or a medical expert to give testimony. Your attorney will have the opportunity to question you, as well as any experts testifying. You will likely not know the outcome of your case until the Judge issues a written decision after the hearing.
If the decision is unfavorable, in most cases you can file an appeal within 60 days to the Appeals Council.