By Adam J. Allegro, Esq.
As most of you who have gone through the process of seeking Social Security disability benefits have likely seen firsthand, the application and appeals process can take a very long time. From my experience, most claimants who are not fortunate enough to be granted benefits at an early stage typically must wait between two to six months for a decision either granting or denying their application for benefits, another two to six months for the first appeal (request for reconsideration) to be decided, and, finally, an additional year before they have the opportunity to be heard in front of an Administrative Law Judge.
However, there are two powerful tools in a Social Security representative’s arsenal which can potentially allow a claimant to have their hearing held quicker, or, in special situations, allow a client to win benefits without having to attend a hearing at all. These weapons are the “On-The-Record Decision Request” and the “Dire Need Request.”
On-The-Record Decision Request (OTR): Once a claimant’s disability benefits case reaches the hearing level, their case file is transferred to a local ODAR office in which it is prepared for a hearing. During this stage of the appeal, Administrative Law Judges and Attorneys are available to review a case and potential grant disability benefits without having to wait for a hearing to take place. Typically, this will only occur if a case is so strong that it warrants a favorable decision without the need for further information which the Judge would gather leading up to and during a hearing.
As a Representative/Attorney, I always try to take full advantage of this process for cases I feel meet the OTR standard, by sending the Judge a letter arguing the legal rules supporting my client’s case and providing specific examples of medical or psychological treatment records and any additional statements from relevant treatment sourcesthat strengthen the case. Although it is not typical for a case to be granted at the hearing stage without the need for a hearing, if an OTR is granted, it will allow a claimant to win without ever having to attend a hearing, and often to receive their benefits much earlier than the normal hearing process would allow.
Dire Need Request: Much like an On the Record Request, a Dire Need Request is also a letter/legal brief that a Social Security representative can submit on behalf of a client at the hearing stage of the client’s appeal. However, unlike an OTR brief, a Dire Need Request will not allow a decision to be made without a hearing. Rather, the Dire Need Request is basically a plea to the Judge to expedite the hearing date, so that a client in a severely dire situation can attempt to win benefits more quickly. A Dire Need Request typically will require the claimant to suffer from a severely compromised health status (near death, deteriorating mental condition, etc.), homeless or facing homelessness, or some other severe condition that would warrant the need for a hearing to be held as quickly as possible.
Although it is in the hands of the Judge in charge of a claimant’s case or the staff at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review to decide whether or not to grant a Dire Need Request, it is always a tool that I keep in mind when representing my clients. In a recent case, I saw the success of a Dire Need Request firsthand, when a client of mine who recently became homeless was granted a Dire Need exception. As such, the client, who normally would have had to wait approximately eight months for a hearing to occur, had a hearing date within a month and received his benefits in 30 to 60 days following the Judge’s favorable decision.
In conclusion, if you are in the process of appealing a Social Security disability claim, please be sure to keep your representative aware of your housing status, your financial situation, and any other dire conditions in your life which may support a Dire Need Request. Also, do not be afraid to discuss the possibility of having your representative file up an On the Record Request prior to your hearing. These tools can often allow for quicker decisions or earlier hearing dates, thereby expediting the time it takes to get the benefits you need.