The Social Security hearings office is now called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). (Formerly, is was known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals, or OHA, which was easier to remember.) ODAR is where the majority of SSDI and SSI disability claims will reach a favorable end (more than half of all claims that are heard by judges at a Social Security hearings office are approved for disability benefits).
What Happens at ODAR?
Appeals hearings (the second level of appeal) are held by administrative law judges (ALJs) at ODAR offices. There are over 1,000 ALJs working at over 100 hearing offices, in addition to larger regional offices. ALJs not only hear appeals in disability cases, but also retirement and cases on survivors benefits. Because there just aren't enough ALJs to process the huge load of appeals, it takes a long time to get a hearing scheduled. Once a Social Security disability or SSI claim is transferred to ODAR (from your local Social Security office), it may "sit" for a year or longer simply waiting to be scheduled for an ALJ hearing date.
What Will I Hear From ODAR?
When a case is transferred to the hearing office, a claimant will typically hear next to nothing about their case. Usually, the only official correspondence that a disability applicant will receive will be:
- an acknowledgement or confirmation letter following a request for hearing that has been submitted
- an appointment letter from the hearings office notifying a claimant that a hearing date has been set, and
- following a hearing, a notice of decision (either unfavorable, partially favorable, or fully favorable).
There is one other piece of correspondence that a Social Security hearings office (most states have several such offices) may send a claimant: an exhibit list. An exhibit list is simply a demarcated list of everything that is in a disability claimant's file, including copies of their applications, copies of medical records gathered by Disability Determination Services (a state agency that helps the SSA with the initial disability determination), and copies of questionnaires completed by a claimant. The exhibit list quickly surmises what information and medical records were viewed previously when a claimant's case was denied.
If ODAR doesn't send you an exhibit list, you should request one. For more information, see our article on reviewing your disability file before the hearing.