If you appeal your Social Security claim to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and receive a hearing, you typically must appear at this hearing or at least send a representative to stand in for you. Your representative can be either an attorney or a non-attorney licensed to advocate for Social Security applicants.
Ideally, you should appear in person at an ALJ hearing alongside your representative who is a Social Security attorney. We highly recommend having a lawyer for ALJ hearing. This setup allows you to appeal your claim in person and allows your attorney to interject on your behalf when necessary.
The Importance of Appearing at Your ALJ Hearing
The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires you or a representative to appear at an ALJ hearing for several reasons.
The ALJ Will Have Questions for You
The purpose of the ALJ hearing is to provide a face-to-face venue where you can appeal your case to a decision-maker. By the time the hearing begins, the ALJ will have reviewed your appeal and supporting documentation. The judge will likely have a list of questions to ask you and your attorney based on the information in your file.
The ALJ’s Witnesses Want to Interview You
The ALJ usually brings other witnesses to the hearing as well, most often a medical expert and vocational expert. The medical expert interprets and offers an independent opinion on information in your medical records. The vocational expert discusses whether any jobs are available in your local market for which you are qualified and able to perform in spite of your condition. Later in the hearing, you have the opportunity to interview these witnesses and ask them questions, as well.
Not Appearing at an ALJ Hearing Defeats Its Purpose
The purpose of an ALJ hearing is for you to have the chance to plead your case in a direct, face-to-face meeting with a judge who has decision-making authority. An ALJ hearing offers a host of advantages over a paper-based appeal and has a much higher approval rate. But you cannot take advantage of it if you do not show up.
If You Cannot or Do Not Want to Appear at an ALJ Hearing
If you cannot or wish not to appear at an ALJ hearing, you do have several potential alternatives.
Your Representative Can Attend in Your Place
You can send your Social Security disability lawyer or representative to the hearing in your place. If you do so, however, you miss the opportunity to respond directly to questions posed by the ALJ and the medical and vocational experts. Not being there deprives you of the chance to make an impression and connect with decision makers. Not appearing could reflect poorly on you and your claim.
You or Your Representative Can Appear Via Teleconference or Telephone
Some applicants have permission to hold their ALJ hearing via teleconference. However, your ALJ has the final say on the manner of appearance and might make you present your case in person. Telephone conferences are allowed to you or your representative only in extraordinary circumstances.
You Can Reschedule Your Hearing
If you wish to attend your ALJ hearing but have an issue with the specific date it is scheduled, you should contact the ALJ no later than five days before the hearing or 30 days after receiving a notice of hearing, whichever comes first. The ALJ might work with you to reschedule.
You Can Forgo the Hearing
If you do not wish to participate in the ALJ hearing at all, you or your representative may request that the ALJ decide your case based on the information in your file. With this option, you forfeit the ability to clarify anything, answer questions or add testimony that could strengthen your claim.
If You Cannot Afford to Attend the ALJ Hearing
If you cannot afford to attend your ALJ hearing, you have a couple of options. One, you can send your attorney or representative in your place. Your representative will incur travel expenses, the reimbursement of which you can work out with them. Often, they will itemize these costs and apply them to your back pay award once you receive benefits.
Two, you can ask the SSA for help. The SSA pays travel costs to hearings for applicants who have a demonstrated financial need and who live more than 75 miles from the hearing location. To request help with travel expenses, contact your ALJ as soon as possible after receiving your hearing notice.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Social Security Disability Attorney
The Disability Advantage Group wants to help you win Social Security benefits in the shortest time possible. Our legal team offers a free initial consultation and case review. To schedule an appointment, call us today at 865-566-0800.