Preparing for your Maine, MA or NH Social Security Disability Hearing

You’ve filed your Request for Hearing and now you’re playing the waiting game, wondering what to expect next in your Social Security disability claim.   Whether you’re in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, the wait can be a long one.  In part 1 of this blog entry we’ll fill you in as to what you can expect.  In part 2, we’ll make sure you understand soup to nuts what to expect on the day of your hearing.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that whether you request a hearing following an initial denial letter out of New Hampshire, or a reconsideration denial out of Maine or Massachusetts, the hearing itself will not take place soon.  The likely wait for a hearing is in the neighborhood of what can be anywhere from 8 to 12 months with the Massachusetts and New Hampshire hearing offices (although some hearings out of the Portland, Maine hearing office are still taking up to 14 months).    Soon after you file your request for hearing (within ordinarily 2-4 weeks of filing your request for hearing) , you will receive a letter from Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) acknowledging the hearing office’s receipt of your file.

The initial letter from the hearing office will inform you that you will be notified as to the time and place of your hearing at least 75 days in advance of the hearing. Likewise, the letter will explain to you that in some circumstances your case can be heard more quickly and efficiently by way of  videoteleconference or what is termed a VTC hearing.   Should you agree to proceed by way of VTC, this  will mean that your case will not be heard in person before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  Instead, you will appear in front of a judge by way of a video camera, much in the same way that those charged with a crime and held in jail, might make a preliminary appearance before a judge for purposes of bail.     While this process may be an expeditious one for the Social Security Administration’s  (SSA’s) purpose, as they can assign and schedule cases before judges that are in other parts of the country that might not be as busy and can hear the case more quickly, this process is quite impersonal as you can well imagine.  This is not to mention the fact that if your attorney is being asked to prepare before a judge with whom he has no familiarity, this may put your attorney and you at a disadvantage.   You will be provided with only twenty (20) days to Object to Proceeding by way of VTC and so you do not want to miss this deadline.  Our office always objects. 

If you reside in Maine and you have objected to VTC, your case will ordinarily be assigned to the Portland, Maine ODAR location: you and your Maine Social Security lawyer would then proceed to a hearing in either Portland, Maine, or, if closer, one of the satellite hearing locations in Augusta, Bangor or Presque Isle, Maine.   However, depending on Portland, Maine ODAR’s workload, you may see your case assigned to the Lawrence, MA hearing office if you live within 75 miles of Lawrence, MA.  Likewise, you might even see your case reassigned to one of the ALJ’s out of Boston if need be, as has been the case recently, given Portland has seen an unfortunate illness take one ALJ out of commission and another ALJ depart without much notice.   Assuming you have timely objected to VTC,  your case will be scheduled for an in person hearing regardless of the location.

Similarly If you reside in greater Boston, Massachusetts, your Social Security disability claim will be transferred to either the Boston, MA ODAR location or, depending on the workload of the Boston, MA office, it may be assigned to the Lawrence, MA hearing office as well if you live within 75 miles of Lawrence.  Western Massachusetts cases are assigned to the Springfield, MA ODAR location, with  Worcester, MA area claimants being set up for hearing at their Worcester, MA satellite hearing office location.  An additional satellite office (for the Boston, MA ODAR location) has been set up in Hyannis, MA for cases on the South Shore.

New Hampshire cases will be assigned to the Manchester, NH ODAR location, unless, once again, you reside within 75 miles of Lawrence, MA, in which case your case might be assigned to the Lawrence, MA ODAR.   Western NH cases, such as out of Keene, NH are heard out of a Brattleboro, VT hearing location, while northern NH cases may be heard in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

At the hearing level, you will be asked to address a work background form (HA-4633), medications list (HA-4632) and a recent treatment form (HA-4631), not to mention a new Social Security medical authorization (SSA-827) which will allow SSA to request updated medical records should they choose to do so.   These forms are meant to update SSA as to whether there have been any changes since the time you filled out a Disability Report on line: many times these forms are sent within a month or two of one’s appeal filing (which makes little sense given the claimant recently addressed these same matters just recently).

In part II, we’ll provide some helpful guidance as to what you should know about the hearing process itself, and we’ll provide you with many of the preparation tips we give our clients.   If you are in fact awaiting hearing and have questions, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 to see how we can assist.