What to expect from your disability hearing

Elizabeth Seeman

You’ve been applying for social security disability benefits and keep receiving denials. After two denials you will have the opportunity to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. At this point, you will be allowed to plead your case before a judge. Allowing you the opportunity to fully explain your situation, rather than having a decision made solely based upon the paperwork in your file. The chances of being approved after a hearing are significantly higher than the first stages in the process. This is because of several factors including having a judge review your file, the ability to explain your story, and the opportunity to have an attorney argue on your behalf. While having an attorney to represent you at your hearing is not mandatory, it is certainly beneficial, especially if you are taking your claim seriously. Going into court without an attorney representing you who specializes in disability law is like going to the DMV to get your drivers license without ever actually having driven a car. Or like buying a house without a realtor. If you do not have experience in social security disability it is unwise to attend a hearing without the assistance of someone who not only knows the process to expect but also knows the rules and regulations.

At your disability hearing you can expect a few things to happen. First, the Judge will review any procedural issues in your case. Second, you will testify as to your medical conditions and how they impact your ability to work. Third, the Judge will elicit testimony from a vocational and/or medical expert. Without experience in disability law you will not be able to adequately discuss the procedural issues or cross examine any experts at the hearing. How could you without the proper knowledge base of the laws and regulations? Now you will be able to testify about your situation. But likely you will not know what to say and what not to say.

I cannot stress enough the importance of having an experienced disability attorney advocating for you at your hearing. As I mentioned in the beginning, if you are taking your case seriously then you will want someone whom knows the process, procedure and how to apply your story to the disability regulations. It should be noted, hiring an attorney for your disability hearing does not cost you anything out of pocket. All disability attorney’s fees are based upon you being approved for benefits and they are handled directly by the social security administration. So really you have nothing to lose by hiring an attorney to help you with your hearing.

Now, assuming you do have an attorney assisting with your disability hearing, you can expect your attorney to help you prepare how best to explain your story. There are three basic categories you will be asked to testify about. The first category has to do with your background information. Meaning, you will be asked questions about your age, date of birth, address, marital status, height, weight, right or left handed, education, military service, health insurance and if you currently drive. Of course that list is not exhaustive but it does give you a picture of the types of background questions you will be asked. That is the easy part of your testimony.

The second category of questions you will be asked about has to do with your work history. The Judge will need to know where you have worked for the past fifteen years. You will need to explain every job you have held in that time frame including your job title, when you started and stopped working at that position, the physical requirements of the job, and the reason you left that position. You may also be asked your typical job duties. The purpose of this testimony is to determine what qualifies as past relevant work for the purposes of social security. Any work that you have performed long enough to learn it and earned over substantial gainful activity will count as past relevant work. It is important to know what work qualifies as past relevant work as you will need to prove your functional limitations prevent you from performing any of those past jobs. This type of testimony can make or break your case, depending upon your age, and functional limitations. It is a very technical type of discussion that again requires an experienced attorney to be able to properly maneuver this testimony.

The third type of questions has to do with your medical conditions. At this point in the hearing the Judge will want to know what conditions you feel are impacting your ability to work. Specifically, the Judge may ask you what medical conditions do you suffer from. Or they could ask what do you feel prevents you from working. Any combination of this type of question should indicate the Judge is looking for you to give a list of your medical conditions. Once a list of conditions is provided you will then be given the opportunity to explain exactly how those conditions functionally impact you. This is done through explaining your symptoms and limitations as a result of the condition along with the type of treatment you receive as well. The Judge may also want to know whether the recommended treatment is helping. If not, is your medical provider trying something new or changing your medications? If you have had surgery is your condition better or worse since your surgery? This line of questioning is a more in depth discussion about your medical conditions as how you understand them. Remember, the Judge already has a copy of your medical records. This is simply in your own words what is your understanding of your situation and how it impacts you. After discussing your condition the Judge may want to hear about a typical day for you such as what you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed.

The key to providing testimony in a disability hearing is knowing how to best answer the question. While the Judge may not be trying to trick you or trip you up, if you do not know the reason why the Judge is asking for certain information you may ultimately provide information that could otherwise negatively impact your claim.

After your testimony, the Judge will likely call a vocational expert and/or a medical expert to testify. This is again where having an experienced attorney representing you will come in handy. It is hard to imagine you would know the right cross examination questions for either of these experts without knowing the rules and regulations of social security.

Having a disability hearing may seem intimidating but ultimately it is the place where most people are approved for disability benefits. If you have been scheduled for a hearing do not be discouraged and do not go to your hearing alone. Call us at the LaBovick Law Group for assistance with your claim (561) 625-8400.

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