What To Expect At Your Social Security Disability Hearing
The Social Security Disability Hearing - What to Expect.
Also known as the ALJ hearing, the appeal at this level is processed by a Hearing Office within SSA's Office of Hearing and Appeals. This office is now called Office of Adjudication and Review or ODAR. After conducting a hearing and receiving additional information, an Administrative Law Judge makes this appeal decision.
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The Social Security Disability Hearing:
What questions asked by ALJ or Lawyer Should You Be Prepared to Answer?
The Social Security Disability hearing or SSI hearing is likely to be the most stressful part of the process for people trying to get Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Many claimants will become emotional during the hearing. This is quite common and is merely a result of having to talk about how much your life has been negatively impacted by your condition. By reading this page on the Social Security hearing process you may get some idea of what you can expect and perhaps relieve some of your anxiety over this process.
Expectations: Who Is Involved
Expect to see an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), a hearing reporter, your lawyer or representative if you have one (we strongly recommend that you be represented), in some cases medical expert (ME), in some cases a vocational expert (VE), and any witnesses you bring. The Judge oversees the hearing, determines how it is conducted, and makes the final decision on your claim. The hearing reporter's job is to make sure the entire hearing is audio recorded. Your lawyer or representative will present your case and can question any witness including the vocational and medical expert. The vocational expert (if needed) will give his expert opinion on work factors in you Social Security claim. A medical expert (if needed) will give their opinion on the medical issues of the case including the medical listings.
Most SSDI or SSI hearings start with the ALJ giving a short introduction of the case and admitting the case file as evidence. The ALJ will then either start the questioning himself or ask the claimants lawyer or representative to start the questioning.
What Type of Questions to Expect
The questioning usually starts off with basic identifying information such as name, address, date of birth, last grade you completed in school, etc.
It will typically be followed by questions about your past employment. The ALJ or your lawyer will ask you about each of your jobs, including how long you worked at each job, what your job duties were, how much did you have to lift on that job, how long did you have to sit and stand, did you do any reaching or bending, how did you use your hands on job, did you supervise other employees, etc.
The reason these questions are asked is to determine what were the physical requirements of the job and what were the non-exertional (non-physical) requirements of the job. This is important because if the ALJ finds that you can perform any of your past relevant work then you will be found not disabled.
You will also be asked what it is that keeps you from being able to work? Or why can't you work? You do not want to go into the medical definitions of what you have. That should be in the file and the ALJ is aware of it. You should answer this question by stating the symptoms or limitations from your medical conditions.
An example might be:
I have constant pain in my lower back that shoots down my leg. The pain gets worse when I stand or sit too long. I have difficulty lifting even light things. The medication I take makes me tired all the time. I can't bend over and tie my shoes. The pain makes it difficult for me to concentrate on what I am doing.
Leave Medical Arguments to the Record and the Medical Expert.
You will also be questioned about the doctors you see, the treatment you are getting, any procedure being planned for your condition like surgery, medications you are taking and any side effects from those medications. The ALJ or lawyer may also ask about any hospitalizations.
There will also be a series of questions about your limitations caused by your condition.
How heavy a weight you can lift.
How long you can stand, sit, walk, etc.
Can you use your hands for things like picking up small objects or grabbing larger objects.
Can you reach out in front of you or above your head.
There also may be other questions asked like these in regards to other limitations. If you suffer from a psychiatric condition you will be asked about these.
Do you have any problems with memory or concentration?
How do you get along with others?
The questions asked about mental conditions tend to vary more than those asked of physical conditions and are asked in different ways. To get a good idea of what kind of limitations an ALJ will be asking about take a look at a mental RFC form. The reason these questions are asked is to help determine your physical and mental limitations.
Your credibility is critical.
Whether your answer to these questions will help or hurt your case depends upon whether the judge believes your testimony or not. If your testimony is consistent with your medical conditions and RFCs then the more probable the ALJ will find your testimony to be credible.
Be warned: If you exaggerate your conditions or contrive your story most ALJs will know and probably not find you disabled.
Daily activities will also be a source of questions. You will be asked about what you do in a typical day.
Do you clean?
Do you cook?
Take care of kids?
These questions deal with how impacted your life is by your condition, and again, your credibility is everything.
There may be many other questions asked but this should give you a broad idea of what to expect.
Closing Statement Summing Up Your Case
Once the questioning is over your lawyer may make a closing statement to sum up your case. It is to your advantage to have an experienced attorney handle this for you because this is sometimes done with a brief. The Administrative Law Judge may also ask if you have anything else to say. Stick to the facts and resist the urge to complain or comment on how long this has taken and all the problems there is with Social Security. Most ALJs are aware of these things and saying it will not help your case.
In general, the best advice is to stick with facts and leave complaints, emotions, and comments to a minimum.
Additional Information RE: A Social Security Disability Hearing
- Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge
You have the right to appeal any decision Social Security makes on whether you are entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits.
If you disagree with a reconsideration determination decision, you have the right to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
If you disagree with the decision of the ALJ, you may file a request for review with the Appeals Council.
To learn more about the levels of appeal go to: Social Security Disability Hearings and Appeals