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Understanding Your Decision
After you’ve attended your disability hearing before the judge, your disability file will remain at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) until the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes his or her decision. This office was formerly known as the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). Once the ALJ has made a decision, the decision is written by staff decision writers at ODAR office, and then reviewed by the judge. When the judge is ready to issue the decision, your disability file may be sent to the Social Security office from where it originated. The length of time it takes to get a decision depends on where in the country you live and how backlogged your regional office is.
If your disability claim is denied, you will receive a notice of denial and instructions on how to appeal. Your file will probably be held at ODAR in case of appeal.
If your disability claim is approved, a Social Security representative at the district office will check to see if you have been working above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level since you filed your claim. If you have done what’s considered substantially gainful work (in 2013, this meant making more than $1,040 per month), your claim might be denied, depending on the circumstances.
Notice of Award
If the Social Security representative doesn’t find anything wrong with your eligibility, you will be sent a Notice of Award letter telling you whether the judge gave you a fully favorable or partially favorable decision. Both are approvals. The difference between a fully favorable and a partially favorable decision is whether the judge agreed with your alleged onset date, which can change your back pay. The Notice of Award letter will explain in detail how much your benefits will be as well as when you can expect your benefits to arrive.
Getting Paid: SSDI
If you were approved only for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance), your file will be sent to a payment processing center and you should start to receive payments within a month.
Getting Paid: SSI
If you were approved for SSI, your file will stay at the district office. A field rep will contact you to ask about any income you’ve received since you applied for disability, including in-kind income, to see if your payments for those months should be decreased. The representative will also ask about bank accounts and other government benefits (such as unemployment or workers’ compensation), to make sure that your resources are still below the limits for SSI eligibility. If you are still eligible for SSI, you should start to receive payments within a couple of months.
Getting Paid: SSDI and SSI
If you were approved for SSI and SSDI, the district office will still perform the above checks, but the payment processing center will handle your SSDI. There may be a delay receiving your back payments since the district office must work with the payment center to make complicated calculations about your backpay.
Appealing the Decision
If you disagree with the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) — that is, you were denied benefits or you disagree with the disability onset date the judge gave you — you can appeal to the Appeals Council. The Notice of Award letter gives you the deadline for appealing an ALJ decision: 60 days after you receive the hearing notice. You can request an appeal by writing to the SSA and requesting an Appeals Council review or by completing Form HA–520: Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order.
You must now decide if you want to appeal one more time, or start a new application. You can no longer start a new disability application while you are going through an Appeals Council.
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