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What Happens at the Disability Hearing?

By Jennifer L. Foster, RN, Attorney-at-Law

You finally get to have your day in Court, and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  By the time you get to a hearing, you’ve usually been waiting for about 2 years. What will happen during the hearing? What questions will be asked? Can I bring my family into the hearing room? Should I get a lawyer?

The Social Security Disability hearing is a very stressful part of the process for people trying to get Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Until this point, you haven’t been face-to-face with a decision maker.

You can expect to see an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), a hearing reporter, your lawyer if you have one, and in some cases a vocational expert (VE). There is a possibility that there could be a medical expert (ME) hired by SSA to give testimony as to your medical condition, but that is not usually the case. The hearing notice will also inform you that you may bring in your own witnesses.

The ALJ oversees the hearing, determines how it is conducted, and makes the final decision on your SSDI or SSI claim. The hearing reporter’s job is to make sure that your testimony is recorded for the record. Your lawyer will present your case and can question any witness including the vocational and medical expert. The vocational expert, if present, is there to give an expert opinion on your previous work and other work in the local and national economy.

The hearing will usually start with the ALJ giving a short introduction of the case and admitting the case file as evidence. Your testimony, as well as any witnesses, will be taken under oath. The ALJ will then either start the questioning himself or ask the claimant’s lawyer to start the questioning. Each ALJ is different in how they approach the hearing.

I generally don’t give my clients a list of questions ahead of time. This process is non-advers-
arial, meaning there won’t be anyone in that room who will start yelling at you, calling you a liar, or objecting to anything that you say. I tell my clients that we don’t have to practice the truth, so you don’t need a list of questions to “practice on.” We are going to be 100% honest about everything. We are going to have a very honest conversation about how your impairments have impacted your life and your ability to work. We’ll discuss your work history, medical problems, education, and paint a picture for the judge of your daily life. What are your physical limitations? What are your mental limitations? Sometimes, these discussions can become overwhelming for you. An astute ALJ will listen very closely to your testimony and watch your demeanor. The ALJ has had an opportunity to review your file before the hearing. This gives him a chance to gauge your credibility during the hearing. ALJs have usually heard thousands of cases, and they are pretty good at telling the truth tellers from the liars. Be warned if you exaggerate your conditions. Most ALJs will know and probably not find you disabled. At the same time, this is not the time to underestimate the seriousness of your condition.

After testimony is taken from you and any of your witnesses (if the ALJ deems it necessary), the ALJ will offer hypothetical questions to the VE. The VE will summarize your past relevant work and offer information on other jobs that you could do based on the various hypothetical questions. The vast majority of the time, the VE WILL BE ABLE TO CLASSIFY JOBS THAT YOU CAN DO. At this point, a skilled disability attorney is an absolute MUST!

After the questioning is over, your lawyer may make a closing statement to sum up your case. Generally, you will not know if you won or lost your case at the hearing. Typically, a decision is mailed out to you and your attorney anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months.

The disability process can be a very difficult and lengthy process. Please do not try to go it alone, especially at the hearing level. Contact me BEFORE YOUR HEARING. With your health crisis, you are dealing with enough; let me fight this battle for you. Contact the Law Office of Jennifer L. Foster, PLLC at 731-506-4006 to discuss which legal strategies will get you the benefits you deserve.

The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.


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