How to Request a Social Security Disability Appeal Hearing

Learn how to get your Social Security disability case before a judge, where you'll have the best chance at winning benefits.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied your disability application and then denied benefits after reconsideration of your claim, you have the right to request a Social Security disability appeal hearing. It's at the appeal hearing level that most successful disability claims are won. Here's what you need to do to get your appeal heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ).

How to Request a Disability Hearing in Front of an ALJ

To be eligible to request a disability hearing before an administrative law judge, you must:

  • have applied for disability benefits
  • have received a Notice of Reconsideration or revised determination of an initial determination
  • disagree with the disability decision (whether you were denied benefits or you disagree with the amount you were awarded) and want to file an appeal.

You can request a hearing in front of an ALJ by doing one of the following:

  • completing an online request
  • completing a special form and submitting it by mail or fax, or
  • writing a letter to your local Social Security office.

Please note that your hearing request must be submitted in writing—either online or on paper (20 C.F.R § 404.930(b).) You can call your local Social Security office (or the national number) to get help filling out the hearing request forms, but you can't request an appeal hearing by phone alone.

Filing an Appeal Hearing Request Online

The fastest way to request a disability appeal hearing is to file an online request, and it's available even if you live outside the United States.

Filling out the online request: There are two parts to the online request process. The first part generally takes about 15 minutes to complete, and the second part is about 30 minutes, but it can take an hour or more to complete the application.

  • Part one asks you to update all your personal information and indicate whether you have a lawyer or a nonlawyer representative for your hearing.
  • Part two asks you to update your medical information, including providing information about new or additional:
    • doctors you've seen
    • hospital visits, and
    • difficulties you've faced that affect your ability to work.

Before You Begin

Social Security recommends you gather the information you'll need to complete the online forms before you begin the online hearing request process. Having what you need at your fingertips can help you avoid being "timed out" while working on the application.

Gather as much of the following information as you can:

  • your personal information like your Social Security number and phone number
  • the date of the denial you're appealing (look at your reconsideration decision letter)
  • your lawyer or representative's name and contact information, if you have one
  • the name, address, and phone number of a friend or relative who knows about your medical condition who can be used as a possible witness at your hearing
  • description of any changes to your medical condition, including any new medical conditions
  • description of any change in your daily activities and work activities
  • details about medical appointments and hospital stays, including:
    • names
    • addresses
    • phone numbers
    • types of treatments, and
    • visit dates
  • details about medical tests you've had, including:
    • the types of tests performed
    • the name and address of the facility where they were performed
    • the date you had the tests, and
    • which health care professional sent you for each test, and
  • names of medicine, both over-the-counter and prescription, that you're currently taking and details like:
    • who prescribed the medication, and
    • any side effects you're experiencing.

Save Your Work

You can (and should) save your work as you go to protect the progress you've made. That way, you don't lose your work if you time out (after 30 minutes of inactivity) or you need to stop and finish later. You'll receive a re-entry number you can use to sign back in and return to your application without losing the work you've already saved.

Filing Social Security's Appeal Hearing Request on Paper

To file a request for an appeal hearing by mail, fax, or in person, you'll need to complete a couple of different forms. Your denial letter will indicate the specific form you need to submit, which should be the Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge, Form HA-501. (See a sample of a filled-out form below from Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability.)

HA 501

Using Form HA-501 allows you to:

  • state why you disagree with Social Security's determination that you don't qualify for disability benefits (or the benefit amount)
  • notify Social Security that you'll be submitting additional evidence to support your claim, and
  • notify Social Security of your intent to attend the hearing. (Personal attendance is strongly encouraged.)

You'll need to fill out the hearing request form and then mail it, fax it, or bring it to your local Social Security office. When you submit your hearing request form (or shortly after), you'll also need to submit the following forms to Social Security:

Like the hearing request form, you'll need to fill out all the applicable forms above and mail, fax, or bring them to your local Social Security office.

Getting Help With Your Appeal Request

If you're unsure which form to use for your situation, or if the denial letter doesn't state which form to use, you can contact the SSA for help.

Calling Social Security to Get Help Requesting a Hearing

You can call your local Social Security office, and a representative will help you request a hearing. You can use the SSA's office finder tool to get your local office's phone number and business hours. When you call, tell the representative you want to request a hearing with a judge.

You can also call Social Security's toll-free number at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. (local time). The national office has representatives who can discuss your situation in English or another language.

Writing a Letter to Social Security

If you're unclear about which forms to complete or how to fill out a form to file a request for an ALJ hearing, you can also send a letter to your local Social Security office requesting a hearing. Social Security will provide the necessary help for you to complete your request and all of the necessary forms listed above.

Things to Keep in Mind When Filing a Request for Appeal

Many people who apply for Social Security disability benefits have a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. It's at this stage that most successful disability claims are granted. So, it's critical to your claim that you do what's necessary to get your case in front of the judge.

Don't Forget the Appeal Deadline

You must request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ) within 60 days of receiving your decision letter from Social Security. Social Security allows 5 days for you to receive your decision letter in the mail, so you technically have 65 days from the date of the decision letter to request a hearing, but don't wait to submit your request.

If you fail to request a hearing by the deadline, you could permanently lose your ability to challenge the decision made in your case. And you'd have to start over at the beginning—that is, file a new application—unless you can demonstrate "good cause" (a valid reason) for requesting a hearing after the deadline has passed.

Have a Good Excuse If You Miss the Deadline

If you have good cause for missing the filing date, Social Security might allow your hearing request to proceed after the deadline. A valid reason for missing the appeal deadline might be that you were in the hospital for a significant time after receiving the decision letter. Other reasons falling under the "good cause" umbrella can include things like:

  • illness
  • comprehension problems due to a mental or cognitive impairment, or
  • other circumstances beyond your control.

But administrative law judges aren't very lenient toward late requests for appeals hearings. If your disability appeal isn't filed on time, your case will most likely be dismissed, and you'll have to file a new claim.

Submit New Evidence as Soon as You Can

You should submit any new medical or other evidence within ten days of filing your request for a hearing. If you can't submit your new medical evidence within ten days—for example, if you're waiting for medical records to arrive from a recent hospital stay—you can request an extension from the ALJ or the hearing office to submit the new evidence.

Plan for Your ALJ Hearing Date

It can take anywhere from three months to two years to get a hearing date, depending on the size of the backlog in your region. (But there are some things you can do to get a faster hearing.)

Social Security is required to give you 75 days' notice of your hearing date. (20 C.F.R. § 404.938(a).) In other words, 75 days before your hearing, Social Security will send you a Notice of Hearing. The notice will tell you when and where your hearing will take place.

Once you receive your hearing notice, you should start preparing for the hearing and submit up-to-date medical evidence (again) to the hearing office.

Get Ready for Your Appeal Hearing Before the ALJ

Your disability appeal hearing is your opportunity to explain to a judge why you deserve to get disability benefits. To ensure you present the solid case possible, you'll want to prepare for the hearing beforehand.

You'll want to keep careful and thorough records of your medical condition and all events that have happened since you applied for disability, including all your:

  • doctor appointments
  • surgeries
  • therapy sessions
  • medications, and
  • diagnostic tests.

Here are some must-read articles to ensure you're successful at your hearing:

Updated September 29, 2023

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