It can take months - even more than a year - to get your Social Security case heard in front of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). However, if you request an "on the record" (OTR) decision, you can drastically speed up the process and get a much quicker decision.
What Is An OTR Decision?
Essentially, it's a decision based on the evidence in your file, without waiting around for the hearing. You should request this when you obviously meet the requirements for disability under the rules outlined for your particular condition in Social Security's "Blue Book" of disabling conditions.
Another good time to request it is when you believe that your previous denial was largely due to missing evidence in your file, and you're now sure that the file contains all of the necessary information for your approval.
What Happens When You Request An OTR Decision?
An attorney in the ALJ's office will review the case and decide if there is enough information in file to make a favorable decision, using a basic 5 step process. If there is, the attorney can adjudicate your claim without the hearing, and you're approved without having to wait all those additional months!
Obviously, the more straightforward your claim, the better your chance of being approved this way. However, the adjudicator won't usually deny your claim outright if there are one or two questions about your work history, or a missing x-ray. The adjudicator will usually contact you directly to try to get any necessary information into your file.
What Happens If The OTR Decision Is Negative?
A negative OTR decision doesn't hurt you. If your benefits can't be granted based on what's already in your file, you are still entitled to the hearing.
In some ways, a negative OTR may actually help you, especially if you were sure that your case couldn't lose. The negative OTR can help you understand where the weak points in your claim are, and prepare accordingly.
For example, your claim might be denied because the residual functioning capacity assessment your physician submitted didn't include specific language that the adjudicator wanted to see. Knowing that, you still have time to get a new assessment by your doctor, before you hearing. That will increase your odds of approval quite a bit!
Why An Attorney Is Important When Requesting An OTR Decision
Your attorney will write up a summary of your claim, including a full recap of your case. Technical details, like the alleged onset date of your disability, will be addressed, which can be important to your claim.
Your medical records will be addressed, and evidence like X-rays, test results and psychological assessments will be referenced at various points. This helps illustrate your disability and provide the necessary medical documentation to support your claim.
Your attorney can also address any negative information in the file, such as a gap in your medical care during a period where you didn't have insurance.
Probably most importantly, your attorney can send a prepared decision to the adjudicator that can be used in place of the ALJ's written decision. That means you won't have to wait around while a written decision is prepared and reviewed by the ALJ's office!
Ask your attorney (such as Bruce K Billman) about requesting an OTR before your hearing. It could be a good way to get your approval faster - or at least identify an area that is problematic.