Social Security Disability hearings are an important part of the disability claim process. Although many claims make it to the hearing stage, it is important to know what happens before the hearing and why so many cases are scheduled for a hearing.
What Happens in Order to Get to a Hearing?
When you apply for disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical records, your work history and information about your background. After reviewing this evidence, the SSA will make an initial decision either approving or denying you for disability. Typically, the only cases that are approved immediately are for people who have extremely severe medical conditions like terminal illnesses.
Because the vast majority of people filing for disability have their claims denied initially, an appeal is necessary to have a chance of being approved for disability benefits. Once a claim has been denied at the Initial stage, you will need to appeal and request Reconsideration of your evidence. At the Reconsideration stage, the SSA will conduct the same review as was done in the Initial stage but the file will be reviewed by a different Disability Examiner.
The Disability Examiners have the same procedures for reviewing disability claims and therefore, people who are denied at the Initial stage are likely to be denied at the Reconsideration stage. Appeals after Reconsideration go to the Hearing stage.
What’s Different About a Hearing?
At this stage, the claim is no longer reviewed by Disability Examiners; your claim is presented to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Appealing to the ALJ Hearing stage is generally the best place to fully present your disability claim. Statistically, you are more likely to be successful at the hearing than at the Initial and Reconsideration stages. You are also more likely to be successful at the hearing than at the Appeals Council and Federal District court, the two appeals stages after the hearing. To try to have a successful hearing, you’ll need to know what to expect and how to best prepare for the hearing.
Preparing for a Hearing
Once your hearing is scheduled, you’ll want to make sure that all of your medical records have been submitted to the SSA. For the judge to have a clear picture of your medical conditions and how they limit you, the judge will need to have all of your evidence. If you would like to ensure that all records have been submitted and if you have any additional evidence, like witness statements or witnesses that would like to attend the hearing on your behalf, you should speak with your attorney to prepare for the hearing date. It is important to ensure that all evidence and statements are prepared because the hearing itself is informal and quick.
Not a Day in Court, an Hour in a Hearing Office
ALJ hearings are informal hearings and therefore, the hearing will not be a trial that occurs in a courtroom. Once you receive your Notice of Hearing from the SSA, you will notice that the ALJ hearing occurs in the SSA’s Office of Hearing Operations (OHO). The SSA has numerous OHO locations and your hearing will be scheduled at the OHO nearest to your home.
The hearing occurs in a hearing room with you, your attorney, any witnesses you have, the judge, a Vocational Expert (VE), and a court reporter. The judge and VE may attend the hearing in person, by webcam or telephone. ALJ hearings typically take less than an hour.
What Happens During the Hearing?
The hearing starts with a swearing in and documentation of everyone participating in the hearing. The judge generally begins the hearing by reading a brief statement about your claim and then begins asking you about your background, your work history and your medical conditions and how they limit you.
Some judges ask the bulk of the questions and then ask your attorney to follow-up and some judges prefer that your attorney do most of the questioning and then the judge follows up. After testimony is complete, the judge will want to question the VE.
The Role of the Vocational Expert
The VE attends the hearing to give the judge their expert opinion on jobs available in the national economy and what jobs a person is capable of doing, despite limitations. The VE’s opinion is important because the judge’s decision will reflect the VE’s opinion of the work available and what type of a work a person with limitations similar to yours can do.
If your attorney deems it necessary, he or she may question the VE about their opinion. Remember, the goal of the hearing is to show the judge that the limitations you have prevent you from performing your past work and any other work. The VE is supposed to be an impartial witness who responds to hypothetical questions from the judge about what work can be performed by individuals with specific limitations.
The Decision, and More Waiting
Once the VE gives his or her opinion, the judge may ask you and your witnesses if you have anything else to say. At that point, you can tell the judge about any other ways in which your background, your medical conditions or your limitations stop you from working. However, do not be concerned if the judge doesn’t ask if you have something to add. The judge may have enough evidence through medical records, doctors’ statements, your testimony, and the VE’s testimony to render a decision.
After your hearing is complete, the judge will start working on making a decision in your claim. You will not get a decision on your case that day. Usually, you can expect to get a written decision from the ALJ within one to two months.
For more information on SSA Hearings, visit their website: https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing_process.html.
Your Social Security Disability Claim May Be Denied – Don’t Go Through Hearing Stage Alone!
An experienced Social Security Disability attorney can help you prepare you and your case for your moment before the Administrative Law Judge. This is the stage where you’re most likely to be approved, so having an advisor and advocate on your side for the hearing makes sense. If you or someone you know is filing for SSD, or has filed and been denied, call the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin at 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation, or simple contact us online.