The first stage is the review of your initial application. The Social Security Administration sends your case to a state agency in Augusta - Disability Determination Services - to gather additional information and to make an initial determination on your claim. That determination is usually made within a three or four months.
If your case is denied after your initial application (and most claims in Maine are denied at this stage, so don't get discouraged), then you must request Reconsideration within 60 days of your initial denial. Your claim is then reevaluated, and Social Security will consider any new evidence that is submitted.
If your case is denied again (and most cases are denied again at this stage), you must request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge within 60 days.
Hearing by Administrative Law Judge
The hearings for Maine residents are conducted at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) in Portland, Maine. The hearings are either held in person or by video conference. Video conference hearings are also held in Augusta, Bangor and Presque Isle. At the hearing, the judge will review the medical evidence, hear your testimony, and may obtain testimony from a medical or vocational expert witness.
Additionally, the Maine judges ask for a hearing brief from your legal representative. The hearing brief sets forth the background facts of your claim, the medical evidence, and a "theory of the case" telling the judge why your claim should be granted under the Social Security disability rules.
As of July 2010, there are six judges permanently assigned to the Portland, Maine ODAR: Judge John Edwards, Chief Judge Guy E. Fletcher, Judge Kim Griswold, Judge John L. Melanson, Judge Katharine Morgan and Judge Joseph Shortill.
The hearing is your best opportunity to win.
Appeals Council and U.S. District Court
If your claim is not granted by the ALJ after a hearing, you may file an Appeals Council Request for Review within 60 days of the date of your ALJ decision. If the Appeals Council grants your request, it will remand your case for a new hearing. On rare occasions, the Appeal Council will grant a claim outright, without remanding the case back to the ALJ.
If your claim has still not been granted after the Appeals Council stage, and you believe strongly that the ALJ made an improper decision in your case, you can file suit against the SSA in U.S. District Court. The suit must be filed within 60 days of the Appeals Council denial. In Maine, the Social Security appeals are heard in federal court in Portland by Magistrate Judge John H. Rich, III.
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