The Social Security hearings office is now called the Office of Hearings Operations, or OHO for short. Previously, it was called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), and before that it was known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). The Office of Hearings Operations is where the majority of SSDI and SSI disability claims will reach a favorable end, after their claimants request an appeal. (More than half of all claims that are heard by judges at a Social Security hearings office are approved for disability benefits.)
There are 10 regional hearings offices, in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Denver, and San Francisco. Each of these regions control anywhere from 8 to 38 hearing offices. Most states have several hearings offices. California has 18; Rhode Island has one. You can find your local hearings office on Social Security's website at www.ssa.gov/appeals/ho_locator.html.
Appeals hearings (the second level of appeal) are held by administrative law judges (ALJs) at OHO offices. There are over 1,500 ALJs working at over 150 hearings 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 your local OHO (from your local Social Security office), it may "sit" for a year or longer simply waiting to be scheduled for an ALJ hearing date.
When a case is transferred to a hearings office, the only official correspondence that a disability applicant typically receives is:
You may also receive an exhibit list from the hearings office. 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 summarizes what information and medical records were considered previously when a claimant's case was denied.
If OHO 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.