What happens during a Social Security Disability hearing?

January 3, 2022 in

Many people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits want to know what the process entails and when they will be approved for benefits. To begin, it is first important to understand who exactly is eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are available to those who have worked and paid taxes on their income, and who are no longer able to work due to a medical condition that has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or end in death. The first step in the process is to submit an application. If your application is denied, the next step is to submit a reconsideration. During the reconsideration process, your case is reviewed by another person who was not a part of the initial decision. If your reconsideration is denied, the next step is to request a hearing. The hearing will then be scheduled with an administrative law judge. Note that it can take around a year for the hearing to be scheduled once requested.

Many people who are scheduled for a hearing express that they are nervous about the proceedings. It helps to know a bit about the process of a hearing in advance. First, it should be known that as of December 2021, Social Security Administration hearing offices are not scheduling any hearings to take place in person due to the pandemic. All hearings are being scheduled either over the phone or through video. You do have the right to an in-person hearing; however, it is important to be aware that if you are choosing an in-person hearing, it is unknown at this time when the in-person hearing will take place. As the process has already been quite lengthy, it is best to proceed with a phone or video hearing to ensure your case gets resolved as quickly as possible. If you choose a video hearing, the hearing will take place through Microsoft Teams, and you will receive a link to the video hearing. If you choose a video hearing, you will receive a phone call from the hearing officer, as will your attorney. There is no advantage to choosing one form of a hearing over the other. The vast majority of our clients at LaBovick Law Group choose to proceed with their hearing over the telephone to minimize the possibility of disruptions from computer or internet issues, which are more likely to occur with a phone hearing.

When the Administrative Law Judge begins the hearing, he or she will require you to testify under oath. Once you have been sworn in, the proceeding is otherwise informal. You will first be asked questions about your work history. The judge must inquire about your work history over the past fifteen years to determine whether you are able to return to any of the jobs which you performed before. Note that the judge will not consider jobs in which you worked for short periods of time or did not earn sufficient earnings to be considered substantial gainful activity. You will be asked to describe your job duties and provide other information about the physical requirements of your job, such as how much time you spent standing and walking, and the heaviest weight that you needed to lift for the job. It is very important to provide this information to the best of your ability so that the vocational expert has enough information to properly classify your past jobs.

After you answer questions about your work history, you will then answer questions about your medical conditions. The judge will compare the testimony you provide with the diagnoses and symptoms reported by your medical providers in your medical records. If you have a condition that causes pain (such as an orthopedic condition) you will be asked how frequently you experience pain, wherein the body you experience it, and what kind of treatments you use to help alleviate your pain. You will be asked how long you are able to stand or sit, and how much weight you can lift or carry. If you have a condition that may cause trouble walking or balancing, you will be asked whether you use any assistive devices such as a cane, walker, or wheelchair. If you have a condition for which you receive ongoing treatment, you may be asked how frequently your treatments take place – for example, if your condition requires infusion treatments, you will advise how many times a week you receive infusions, and how long the appointments take. If you are taking medications, you will be asked to provide information about any side effects which you are experiencing. If your conditions are related to mental health disorders, you will explain what kind of symptoms you may have, such as panic attacks or crying spells, and how frequently they occur. You will also testify about any problems that you have with your memory or attention and concentration, either due to your conditions or due to side effects from medications.

The judge will then turn to the vocational expert, who is an individual experienced in job placement, job ability, and the skills required to perform various jobs. The judge will first ask the vocational expert to classify your past jobs. The vocational expert will cross-reference the jobs you performed with the job listing in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which is a listing of types of employment along with their skill levels and physical requirements. The judge will provide hypothetical examples of persons with certain limitations to the vocational expert. The vocational expert will then provide any jobs which this hypothetical person can do, or advise that no jobs are available for someone with the limitations provided by the judge. The judge will then close the hearing, and the decision will be issued in about 60 days.

Hiring an attorney to represent you at the hearing provides you with your best chance of success. The attorneys at LaBovick Law Group are highly experienced in handling Social Security Disability hearings and will highlight the aspects of your condition that best support a favorable decision for your case. Call LaBovick Law Group at (561) 625-8400 for a free case evaluation.