Everything You Need to Know About Social Security Disability
Do You Need A Lawyer To Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits?
You do not need an attorney to file a claim. But having a knowledgeable advocate is clearly an advantage in an environment where the large majority of claims are rejected on the initial filing.
One of your advocates in the pursuit of your rights is your Social Security disability lawyer. This website will help you find that advocate, and provide you with the information you need to thoroughly understand your rights and your options.
First, information is always your friend. Below are some sources of information as well as some links that can help you better understand your circumstance, what's expected of you, and how the government views you when determining eligibility.
There is a very informative post on mobiletv-news.com that reveals the best approach to improving your chances of obtaining benefits on your first attempt. It encourages applicants to consult a social security disability attorney to guide you through the bureaucratic process though it isn't absolutely necessary. But if your application is denied for technical reasons - not supplying the required information, or providing incomplete or outdated records - professional help may greatly improve your odds of success. Although the information on mobiletv-news.com is a couple of years old, it is still valid in all respects and we strongly recommend you take the time to read it. There are also many other websites with good information, but remember that assistance may come with a price - either a fee, or a portion of your benefits is the typical compensation for assistance. But good advice is probably worth it.
Your Social Security Benefits
In 1945 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a Federal program now known as Social Security. Your Social Security benefits derive from that program. Driven by economic hardship, the program sought to soften the harsh conditions caused by economic depression and war. Your Social Security benefits provide much more than retirement benefits.
"The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several Federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program."
"Social Security Disability Insurance pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you are "insured," meaning that you worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes."
"Supplemental Security Income pays benefits based on financial need."
When you apply for these programs, you will be asked to supply medical and other information to determine if your circumstance meets Social Security's definition of disability.
This is a good resource for general information on the government site.
Use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to find out which programs may be able to pay you benefits.
If your application has recently been denied, the Internet Appeal is a starting point to request a review of our decision about your eligibility for disability benefits.
If your application is denied for:
* Medical reasons, (beginning December 22nd) you can complete and submit the required Appeal Request and Appeal Disability Report online.
The disability report asks you for updated information about your medical condition and any treatment, tests or doctor visits since we made our decision.
* Non-medical reasons, you should contact your local Social Security Office to request the review. You also may call ssa's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213, to request an appeal. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can call ssa's toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778
It is important to point out that the Social Security Administration does not require that you be a licensed lawyer to perform some aspects of social security representation. But, if you can hire a social security disability attorney for the same price as someone who is not a social security attorney, who would you retain? Social security disability lawyers and Supplement Security Income (SSI) claims lawyers do not charge you anything unless you recover. In essence, that is called: You Pay No Fee If There Is No Recovery.
Supplement Security Income (SSI) is part of the Social Security Program that provides monthly disability benefits to those who have not worked long enough to qualify for SSDI.
The Social Security Administration denies 70% - 75% of the applications for disability. However, a social security attorney can appeal the decision to an Administrative Law Judge and the statistics are very good for winning the appeal. Approximately 60% -70% of these appeals win!
Application of Social Security Disability Benefits.
How Can A Lawyer Help Me?
- Your attorney is your advocate
- Understanding your circumstance
- Handling the paperwork
- Refiling if your initial claim is denied
Make sure that your approach to filing is not perceived to be anything other than an honest application for benefits. This is not a play-the-odds gambit where you might strike it rich, like an online casino usa ploy. If seen in that light, you run the risk that your application will be immediately denied, and you risk prosecution. An experienced lawyer will ensure that your application will be managed professionally.
Why Do You Need A Social Security Disability Lawyer?
Avoid Common Errors
As is the case with any government process, professional help can make the critical difference between success and failure. A lawyer familiar with the Social Security benefits process can protect you from making certain common errors that harm your chances of approval.
For example, if you are disabled and unable to work, it is critical that you pursue a claim for Social Security disability, or ssi based on disability, and get it filed immediately. This is because initial disability claims often take a very long time to process. It is the exception that gets processed quickly, the first time around.
A knowledgeable Social Security disability lawyer will help you avoid hardships created by filing too late. Many unknowing claimants experience unnecessary difficulties simply because they could not adapt to the long time frames involved. Your Social Security disability lawyer will make sure you file early.
Pay Attention Details
If you have a physical illness or mental condition that is expected to prevent you from working for at least a year or that will result in your death, you may be eligible for social security disability benefits. If you do not present a strong case, the lengthy application process may very likely be futile. Even if you meet all the requirements for social security disability benefits, you may be rejected simply because you did not file properly. The fact is about 70% of initial social security disability claims get rejected which is why we recommend that you find a competent social security disability lawyer.
Look for a social security disability lawyer who is experienced in handling all types of disability cases. You obviously want a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the social security system and understands what it takes to win social security disability benefits for their client.
The fact is, if you're applying for social security disability benefits, you are already dealing with enough issues and taking on filing a Social Security disability claim may just be too overwhelming. A social security disability lawyer will essentially do everything for you as they guide and advise you every step of the way.
Below is a condensed description of what to expect as you seek Social Security disability benefits. With a social security disability lawyer, you will not be alone during this process
When you decide to pursue getting benefits you need to fill out the initial application. This can be done by phone, in person, or online. You must fill out an application and acquire medical records.
A good social security disability lawyer will develop your claim based upon your work history, age, impairments, and how you reached the point of being unable to work. They will also assist in obtaining the medical evidence necessary to support your claim.
The finished application is then sent to Disability Determination Services (DDS). This is where your initial claim will be reviewed, not at your local Social Security Administration office. Again about 60 to 70% of these initial claims are rejected. If your claim is rejected, your social security disability lawyer will help with the appeal.
You will have 60 days to request having your file reviewed again. This is called Reconsideration. Your social security disability lawyer will handle this request for you. During "Reconsideration" your claim is reviewed again by the Disability Determination Services (DDS). Unfortunately, the chances of a successful review are very slim. At this point many folks just give up. Don't! You have the right to file an appeal.
Social Security Disability - How to Apply
Social Security Disability Determination Process
SSA-561-U2 Form - Request for Reconsideration for Social Security Disability Benefits
You have 60 days to request a hearing. If at this point you still don't have a social security disability lawyer, we strongly recommended that you have one for this hearing. Most claims are won at an administrative hearing.
The hearing will have an Administrative Law Judge who will decide whether or not you will be awarded benefits. The wait time to get this hearing may vary greatly, but it may take over a year to finally have a hearing scheduled. It would be a shame to not be fully prepared, and going to this hearing without a social security disability lawyer would greatly reduce your chances of successfully winning.
A social security disability lawyer will prepare your whole case and prep you before the hearing where the judge will ask you a number of questions. Using an experienced social security disability lawyer who is familiar with the presiding judge is to your advantage because your lawyer can prepare you for the questions that your specific judge is most likely to ask. One thing that many people don't realize is that the files the judge now has will be outdated since a number of months have passed from the initial application. When you request a hearing your file is transferred to the Office of Hearings without any updated information. If you are represented by a social security disability lawyer, he/she will be sure to supply all updated records, as well as get written supporting statements from your healthcare providers to be presented at the time of your hearing.
If you have just hired a social security disability attorney at this stage, he/she will look over your file, see why you have been declined in the previous stages, and then create a strategy that presents your story in the most compelling way. Those folks who choose not to have legal representation still have the opportunity to look over their file, but may not understand most of it or know how to best present their case before the Administrative Law Judge.
There are still legal options available if your application is again declined. If your social security disability lawyer feels that there was some error on the judge's part he/she may appeal to the Appeals Council. If the appeal is accepted, the council will review your claim and either overturn the decision or return it to the original judge. If denied you may still appeal to Federal Court in which case your social security disability lawyer will file a petition.
As you can see from this description of the process for filing and appealing for social security disability benefits, there are many situations along the way where having expert legal advice would be to your benefit.
There really are no disadvantages to hiring a competent social security disability lawyer. A lawyer will be motivated in helping you since he/she only charges if you win and receive benefits. Therefore, you should not dismiss the idea of hiring a social security disability lawyer for financial reasons.
For many people the best advice is to seek representation from the start of the process. Without the proper guidance you can unknowingly be hurting your case. A social security disability attorney will take care of everything for you as far as paperwork, filing, research, and personal prepping for a hearing before a judge. In addition your lawyer will make sure that you meet all the deadlines and check to make sure your files are received. Your social security disability attorney is your guide making the whole social security disability process much simpler for you. And once your claim is accepted, your lawyer will make sure you receive the proper payment from the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Disability Insurance
Supplemental Security Income and Social Security disability insurance are the largest Federal disability programs managed by the Social Security Administration. Although these two programs are different in many ways, the Social Security Administration administers both programs.
Social Security disability insurance is payroll tax-funded. If a claimant meets Social Security's definition of disability, he/she should apply for Social Security disability insurance. The claimant must have a disability that prevents her/him from working or prevents her/him from earning an income over the SGA (substantial gainful activity) level. To qualify for Social Security disability insurance, claimants must prove to the Social Security Administration that they are "permanently disabled," or suffering from a condition, either mental or physical, that has lasted, or is expected to continue for more than 12 consecutive months, OR may result in death. In addition, a individual must be a legal United States resident and have worked a designated amount of time either as an employee or a free lancer where he/she contributed to Social Security taxes. If the person was disabled prior to turning 22, he/she may be able to collect Social Security disability insurance by using their parents' credits without their parents losing any of their own benefits.
Benefits Based on Social Security Earnings
Once an application is approved, the monthly Social Security disability benefit amount is based on the Social Security earnings record of the insured worker. The benefits may continue as long as the person is disabled and meets the work or other eligibility requirements. However, benefits can stop for specific reasons, events, or activities. Periodically the Social Security disability insurance recipient will undergo a review to determine if there is any medical improvement in the individual's condition, as well as to determine whether he/ she continues to be eligible for benefits. When the disabled person reaches "retirement age", generally at age 65, he/ she will leave the Social Security disability insurance program and move into the Social Security retirement program instead.
Some Impairments Are Automatically Considered Disabled
If you have any of the impairments on this list, you are automatically considered disabled. That is not to say, if you have some impairment not on the list that you would be disqualified. If the Social Security Administration deems your impairment equal in severity to the ones on the list, you will be approved. If your impairment is severe enough to prevent you from returning to work at your previous job or any other job, then you may still be eligible to receive benefits.
NOT Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Social Security disability insurance should not be confused with Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is an income supplement that is not funded by Social Security taxes. SSI is for older individuals or children, who are blind or disabled, with very limited income. SSI gives income for basic needs like shelter, food and clothing.
Many people think they will never need to apply for Security disability insurance. However, a 20-year-old worker has a 3-in-10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. The process of applying and obtaining Social Security disability insurance can be long and frustrating. Most people will not be approved in their initial application, or in their reconsideration appeal. Don't be discouraged. Consider consulting with a Social Security disability lawyer. Since each individual's situation is unique, it is wise to contact a Social Security disability lawyer, if your first application or appeal is denied. With representation, you will have a knowledgeable partner who can answer your questions and help streamline the process. A Social Security disability lawyer can be of great assistance to you in pursuing your claim in a court hearing before a judge. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer understands the Social Security disability insurance appeals process. Your Social Security disability lawyer will fight for you to receive the Social Security disability insurance benefits that you deserve.
Social Security Disability Initial Claim
The First Step
If you feel that you are eligible for benefits, the first step in the application process for benefits is filing the Social Security disability initial claim. A Social Security disability initial claim can be initiated by calling the Social Security Administration 's toll free number, in person at your local Social Security Administration 's office, or online.
If you choose to file your Social Security disability initial claim online go to the Social Security Administration website by clicking here.
There are pros and cons to filing online. First of all you must be 18 years or older and have worked and paid Social Security taxes long enough and recently enough to qualify. The main advantage to filing online is you can start your disability claim immediately. You do not have to wait for an appointment at your local Social Security office. In addition, you can apply anytime on a computer from the convenience of your own home. Avoiding trips to a Social Security office will save you time, money, and discomfort. However, you can't ask any questions you might have regarding the Social Security disability initial claim process. You also will not receive "protective filing" status. The "protective filing date" is the date you first contact the Social Security Administration office about filing for benefits. It can be used to establish an earlier application date than when your actual signed application is received.
By Phone, Mail, or Appointment
You can file your claim over the phone and have the paperwork mailed to your home, or schedule an appointment at your local Social Security Administration office and file your claim in person. The Social Security disability initial claim is for many folks just the first of many more steps in process of qualifying and receiving Social Security Disability benefits.
Be Meticulous With Your Medical Records
After your Social Security disability initial claim is made, it is forwarded to a disability examiner at the (DDS) Disability Determination Services. The disability examiner will request your medical records. It is essential to list all of your medical information with doctors' telephone numbers and addresses.
Your Social Security disability initial claim is approved or denied based on your medical records. It is also wise to obtain copies of your own medical records from your doctors and submit them with your application.
The disability determination examiner may make his/her decision without receiving all of your records from outside sources, if he/she finds that the records received with the Social Security disability initial claim are "sufficient enough" to make a decision.
Usually, however, your Social Security disability initial claim will be filed away while the disability examiner awaits requested medical records from doctors and hospitals as well as other information.
The disability examiner then makes his/her decision with the input of a supervisor, and medical and psychological consultants. It is possible the examiner may request that you receive an additional medical exam paid for by the Social Security Administration.
After an approval or denial is made regarding your claim, you will receive notification in the mail.
Most Initial Claims Are Denied - But Don't Give Up
Please be aware that in most cases (60 to 70 percent) a Social Security disability initial claim will be denied. Don't lose hope since you can appeal the decision. You have 60 days to request what is called "Reconsideration" where the same people who rejected your Social Security disability initial claim, reconsider your "denied" claim. 90% of reconsidered claims are denied again. At this point, you, the claimant, have one more avenue to appeal DDS decision. You have 60 days to request a hearing before a judge.
Your SSD Lawyer Can Guide You Through The Process
If your Social Security disability initial claim is denied or if your "reconsideration" appeal is denied, you should definitely seek representation from a Social Security disability lawyer. It may even be wise to seek counsel from a Social Security disability attorney when first filing your Social Security disability initial claim. Your Social Security disability lawyer can ease the whole arduous process by first making sure you initially qualify to file a claim. They will then handle all the paperwork including obtaining medical records and physician recommendations for you. If your Social Security disability initial claim is denied, your Social Security disability attorney will then guide you through the appeals process as well. If you have a hearing before a judge, it is imperative to have by your side an experienced Social Security lawyer who will spend the time preparing your file for presentation.
Be Patient - The Federal Agencies Move Slowly
Do not become discouraged by the process of filing for disability. It can take a great deal of time to get from the Social Security disability initial claim to actually receiving benefits. If you are denied benefits, contact an experienced, knowledgeable Social Security lawyer to help you get the benefits you deserve.
What Are The Qualifications For Social Security Disability Insurance?
When you apply for social security disability or SSI disability benefits you must meet certain criteria put forth by the Social Security Administration (SSA) before your claim can even be considered. There are both medical and non-medical requirements among the numerous Social Security disability qualifications. Foremost, you must be able to prove to the Social Security Administration that you are "permanently disabled," or suffering from a condition, either physical or mental, that has lasted, or is expected to continue for more than 12 consecutive months. The time guideline is crucial to your claim so it is important that you keep all pertinent medical records and other paperwork well organized and up to date. You do not want any confusion or questioning about the extent of your disability.
Social Security Administration's Blue Book
The social security administration's impairment listing manual, called the blue book, lists a number of impairments, both physical and mental, that will qualify an individual for social security disability benefits.
In some cases you do not even have to have one of the impairments that is listed in the blue book to potentially be awarded disability benefits. Anything from this list or similar to this list may qualify you as being disabled.
Even though suffering from a chronic condition, the SSA will need to decide if your disabling condition prevents you from achieving any type of "substantial gainful activity." You simply can't claim that you are unable to perform the duties of your previous employment. You also have to prove that it impossible to find a new line of work due to age, education, or impairment.
Interestingly, you can technically still be working and receive Social Security disability benefits if you are below the substantial gainful activity (aka SGA) level which is currently $1000 per month before taxes. In the case of a blind individual the SGA level is $1,640 In the case of a blind individual the SGA level is $1,640.
To Qualify for Disability Payments Sufficient Social Security Work Credits Are Required
Even though you may meet the SSA's definition of disability, there are non-medical requirements for Social Security disability benefits as well. You still need to have sufficient Social Security work credits in order to qualify for disability payments since Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is funded by the Social Security tax fund.
Social Security work credits are based on your total yearly wages or self-employment income where you have contributed to the Social Security tax fund. You can earn up to four credits each year. A calendar year is divided into quarters: January thru March; April thru June; July thru September; and October thru December. While working and paying taxes you receive four credits per year. Basically, an individual needs to have paid Social Security taxes on his or her wages long enough to qualify for benefits. With a fairly consistent work history, and having worked a minimum of five of the ten years previous to the onset of disability, you will qualify. The work credit requirement can be somewhat less for younger applicants.
If you become disabled in the quarter you turn 24 or before, then you would need one and half years of work within the three-year period before you were disabled. If you become disabled in the quarters between age 24 and 30, you would need to have worked half the time since the quarter you turned 21 until the time you were disabled. If you become disabled at 31 or later, you would need to have worked five out of 10 years, ending with the quarter you became disabled.
Other Helpful Information
- Qualifying Social Security Disability Benefits
To qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must not only have worked in jobs covered by Social Security, but also have a medical condition that meets Social Security's definition of disability.
To learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability Benefits go to: Social Security Disability Qualification Requirements
The Process of Filing for Disability is Not Simple.
If you need some guidance, contacting a social security disability lawyer could be helpful. Understanding how the Social Security Disability system works and how it relates to medical impairments can make the difference between success and failure in applying for and receiving social security disability benefits.
The requirements for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are different from the Social Security disability qualifications.
For SSI you must either be
- 65 or older
- a child that is blind or disabled
and have limited resources and income. It is possible to be eligible for Social Security disability and SSI at the same time.
Income consists of wages, pensions , and Social Security disability benefits. If you are married, part of your spouse's income is used in determining qualification. Part of your parent's income in case you are younger than 18 and part of your sponsors income if you are a sponsored "no citizen" will also be considered. The income that SSI does not count is
- The first $20 a month of most income you receive;
- The first $65 a month you earn from working and half the amount over $65;
- Food stamps
- Shelter you receive from private nonprofit organizations; and
- Most home energy assistance.
In addition, some scholarships and wages are not counted for students. Items used in assisting a disabled worker that were paid for are not counted, as well as work expenses for the blind. Some training costs are also not counted for the blind or disabled.
Resources consist of real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds. You may be eligible for SSI if your resources equal no more than $2,000 and no more than $3,000 for a couple. Resources that do not count are
- The home you live in and the land it is on;
- Life insurance policies with a face value of $1,500 or less;
- Your car (usually);
- Burial plots for you and members of your immediate family; and
- Up to $1,500 in burial funds for you and up to $1,500 in burial funds for your spouse.
If you feel that you meet the Social Security disability qualifications, or the requirements for SSI you should speak to a Social Security disability lawyer who will help you navigate the Social Security disability application process.
Social Security Disability Appeals
Most initial claims are denied, but you can appeal if you feel the denial was incorrect. Social Security wants to be sure that every decision made about your Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim is correct. They want to carefully consider all the information in your case before making any decisions that affect your eligibility or your benefit amount.
When they make a decision on your claim, they will send you a letter explaining their decision. If you do not agree with that decision, you can appeal - that is, ask them to look at your case again.
When you ask for an appeal, they will look at the entire decision, even those parts that were in your favor. If you can demonstrate that their decision was wrong, they will change it.
When & How Can You Appeal?
Should you wish to appeal, you must make your request in writing within 60 days from the date you receive their letter. They assume you receive the letter five days after the date on the letter, unless you can show us you received it later. Call your local Social Security office if you need help with your appeal.
If you filed for Social Security disability benefits or SSI and your claim was denied for medical reasons, you may request an appeal at Internet Appeal.
How Many Appeal Levels Are There?
Generally, there are four levels of appeal. They are:
- * Reconsideration
- * Hearing by an administrative law judge
- * Review by the Appeals Council
- * Federal Court review.
When you are sent a letter about a decision on your claim, they will tell you how to appeal the decision.
A reconsideration is a complete review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision. They will look at all the evidence submitted when the original decision was made, plus any new evidence.
Most reconsiderations involve a review of your files without the need for you to be present. But when you appeal a decision that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because your medical condition has improved, you can meet with a Social Security representative and explain why you believe you still have a disability.
If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the original decision or the reconsideration of your case. The hearing is usually held within 75 miles of your home. The administrative law judge will notify you of the time and place of the hearing.
Before the hearing, they may ask you to provide more evidence and to clarify information about your claim. You may look at the information in your file and give new information.
At the hearing, the administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses you bring. Other witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts, also may give us information at the hearing. You or your representative may question the witnesses.
In certain situations, they may hold your hearing by a video conference rather than in person. They will let you know ahead of time if this is the case. With video hearings, they can make the hearing more convenient for you. Often an appearance by video hearing can be scheduled faster than an in-person appearance. Also, a video hearing location may be closer to your home. That might make it easier for you to have witnesses or other people accompany you.
It is usually to your advantage to attend the hearing (in person or video conference). You and your representative, if you have one, should come to the hearing and explain your case.
What You Should Know About Social Security Disability
After the hearing, the judge will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information you give. They will send you a letter and a copy of the judge's decision.
If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by Social Security's Appeals Council. They will be glad to help you ask for this review.
The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct. If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to an administrative law judge for further review.
If the Appeals Council denies your request for review, you will be sent a letter explaining the denial. If the Appeals Council reviews your case and makes a decision itself, you will be sent a copy of the decision. If the Appeals Council returns your case to an administrative law judge, you will be sent a letter and a copy of the order.
If you disagree with the Appeals Council's decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court. The letter sent to you about the Appeals Council's action also will tell you how to ask a court to look at your case.
Can You Seek Help With The Process?
Yes. Many people handle their own Social Security appeals with free help from Social Security. But you can choose a lawyer, a friend or someone else to help you. Someone you appoint to help you is called your "representative." They will work with your representative just as they would work with you. Your representative can act for you in most Social Security matters and will receive a copy of any decisions we make about your claim.
Your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you without first getting written approval from Social Security.
If you want more information about having a representative, ask for Your Right To Representation (Publication No. 05-10075) or fill out our form and speak with a Social Security Disability lawyer. The initial consult is free.
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.
Click the "Request Help" link if you you want to speak to a lawyer or just want a free consultation.
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?
- Watch TV?
- Take care of kids?
- Go shopping?
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.