A hearing before an Administrative Law Judge is the second appeal in the Social Security Disability appeal process. At a hearing, you appear in-person before an Administrative Law Judge or by video teleconference.
In North Carolina, there are hearing offices, called ODARs (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review), in Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, and Fayetteville. When you file a claim for disability benefits, you file at the local office in your area. When you reach the hearing level and you file your Application for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (form HA-501), then your case is assigned to the ODAR closest to your reported residence. (NOTE: all requests for hearing must be filed online now).
When you file a request for a hearing, the ODAR office will schedule a hearing by contacting you no earlier than 20 days before the hearing date. If you live more than 75 miles from the nearest ODAR, you case may be heard at a satellite hearing office either with a judge present or by video.
Depending on the volume of work for each office, staffing, budgets, etc., the wait time for receiving a hearing date varies for each office. The Social Security Administration keeps track of the average time for final disposition of cases. The Charlotte, NC ODAR has the best processing time for cases in North Carolina, with an average process time of 393 days. Out of all of the hearing offices throughout the country, Charlotte ranks 121. The Raleigh, NC ODAR is ranked 130, with an average processing time of 402 days. The Fayetteville, NC ODAR is ranked 143 with an average processing time of 421 days. The Greensboro, NC ODAR is ranked 162 out of 165 offices, with an average processing time of 466 days.
So obtaining a hearing date is just part of the disposition process. Once you obtain a hearing date, you then need to attend the hearing. If you do not have all of your evidence to present before or at the hearing, sometimes a hearing would be held open for a time to allow for submission of additional evidence. Also, most administrative law judges do not make a decision regarding a claim at the hearing. They will review the evidence, hear the claimant’s testimony and any other witnesses, then make a decision. The judge’s opinion and reasoning are given to a decision writing unit. This unit prepares the actual decision. There is not a deadline or requirement for a specified time for the decision to be sent to a claimant after a hearing. Some decisions take a few weeks, others a month or more. This time is factored into the processing time for cases. The longest time I have seen for a decision was 4 months after the hearing date.
These times seem long and they are. However, the Social Security regulations provide that a claimant must be disabled for more than 12 months or expected to be disabled for more than 12 months. Faster hearing times may lead to some denials because of this regulation.