What to expect at a disability hearing

The thought of your Social Security Disability/SSI hearing can be overwhelming. What is the purpose of the hearing? Who will be there with you? How should you prepare? When will you receive a decision? What questions will you need to answer?

Here are eight common questions and answers to help ease your mind:

  1. What is the purpose of the disability hearing? The intent of a Social Security Disability/SSI hearing is to establish if your condition/impairment satisfies Social Security’s definition of disability and will prevent you from working for at least a year. The hearing takes place at the Office of Hearing Operations and is held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who weighs the evidence, testimony, and law of each case.
  2. What should I wear? It is typically advised to wear “what you would wear to church or a religious service” to your Social Security Disability hearing. Although disability hearings are informal, they are still official proceedings and claimants should dress respectfully. However, if your condition prevents you from wearing this type of clothing, wear clothes that will allow you to be comfortable for the duration of your hearing.
  3. How long will my hearing last? Social Security Disability hearing times vary, but the average length of time is 15-60 minutes. Knowing how your ALJ is going to conduct the hearing can help you better estimate how long your hearing will last.
  4. Will there be a jury? No! A Social Security disability hearing is not open to the public. There will be no jury or gallery. Only you, your social security attorney if you choose to have one, an ALJ, a hearing assistant/court reporter, a Vocational Expert (VE) and a Medical Expert (ME) if necessary will be present.
  5. What will the Administrative Law Judge ask me? The judge can question you about your condition, limitations, treatment, previous employment, and other issues pertaining to your disability. A judge will ask about any drug use, non-compliancy in treatment, and gaps in treatment so be prepared to answer these or other difficult questions. Because no two cases are the same, it is impossible to always predict the exact questions an ALJ may ask, but consulting with an attorney can help you prepare. Because you will be sworn in at the start of the hearing, you must answer questions honestly. The judge will have read your medical records and will know if you are skirting a difficult question.
  6. At the Social Security Disability hearing, what does the attorney ask? The attorney will review your medical records, and may schedule a pre-hearing conference with you to discuss anticipated questions and issues from your assigned ALJ. The attorney may ask you questions after the judge has finished his or her questioning. The purpose of this is to elaborate on issues that you have discussed with your attorney but the judge did not ask. This helps give the ALJ a more complete picture of your limitations in support of your Social Security benefits.
  7. What is a Vocational Expert? A VE is an expert witness used by many ALJs to provide testimony regarding jobs, job requirements, and number of jobs in the U.S. economy. The VE will help the judge determine if your limitations prevent you from re-entering the national economy. The name and resume of the VE will be provided to you before the hearing so you can review their qualifications as an expert. The VE will rely heavily on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles for job classifications and requirements but may also testify to their personal experiences.  
  8. How long will it take to get a decision? The wait time after a Social Security Disability hearing can vary significantly. Even if the ALJ awards benefits from the bench, you still need the written decision before a Social Security field office can begin processing benefits. On average, wait times can vary from four weeks to over six months.

“Being prepared for your hearing is critical,” said Attorney Mallary Scheer. “You obviously want to be prepared so that you have the best chance of receiving a fully favorable decision at your hearing. However, should you be denied, a weak or flawed hearing may significantly reduce your chances of winning an appeal. If you have an upcoming hearing, I highly recommend you discuss your case with an experienced attorney.”

For more information regarding a Social Security Disability hearing, or if you need legal assistance, schedule a free consultation with Mallary L. Scheer Attorney at Law today.