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What should you expect at a Disability Hearing?

Elizabeth C. Leffel

A Social Security disability hearing is not a trial. It is not even in a courtroom. But the idea of a hearing can be very stressful for anyone. The hearing is just that, it is an opportunity for the Administrative Law Judge to hear the claimant’s side of the story. It is the time for the Judge to listen to what you have to say and ask questions to better understand your claim.

You will be asked questions about your work history, your age and education level, your disability, your treatment. The hearing is held in an office building in most areas. It is a conference room, set up with video and recording equipment. Hearings can be done with the Administrative Law Judge (AU) in person or in another city by video. The attorney and claimant are seated at a table. There is no witness box or jury or spectators. Usually the attorney makes an opening statement on your behalf and discusses procedural matters with the AU. Then depending on the method of taking testimony that the Judge prefers, the attorney will ask you questions or the Judge may do so.

One must be prepared to discuss every aspect of their disability. Activities of daily living are explored. The time limits for sitting, standing and walking are very important to know prior to hearing. The effect of the disabling impairment on one’s ability to perform activities is discussed. The prognosis for the future and the effect of medications and treatment are also considered and discussed.

Medical expert testimony may be elicited in certain cases where a Medical Expert has been called to testify. The doctor will assess the impairments and let the Administrative Law Judge know if the claimant’s condition meets the Listings found in the Social Security Regulations. The Listings are basic definitions of disability approved by the Social Security Administration. If a person meets or equals a listing, they are found disabled. The Medical Expert also addresses and gives testimony regarding the limitations and restrictions that are pertinent to the case, if the Listings are not applicable.

Vocational expert testimony is also used at a hearing. That is why testimony is taken from the claimant regarding the duties performed in past work. That is very important in evaluating whether there is a job in the past that can still be done, or whether other jobs are available that accommodate the current physical or mental restrictions. The testimony of a vocational expert (VE) is used to help make these determinations in most cases. A vocational expert will attend the hearing by phone, video, or in person. They will testify as to the past relevant work done by the applicant. They will give the Administrative Law Judge the lifting and standing requirements of that job, the exertion and skill level. Then the VE will be asked a series of hypothetical questions to determine if there are any past or other jobs available. The hypotheticals will describe the alleged disabilities and the restrictions on various environments and activities. There is an opportunity for cross examination of both the Medical Expert and the Vocational Expert. A brief closing argument is usually allowed.

Most hearings take 45 minutes to an hour. They are non-adversarial. The decision is usually not rendered at the time of the hearing. It can take 60-90 days before a decision is issued. The decision is sent by mail to the applicant’s current address. So it is important to keep that up to date with SSA or your attorney. The hearing gives you the opportunity to be heard, so don’t miss it.

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