What Happens at a Disability Hearing?

If you are unhappy with the reconsideration decision, you must request an ALJ hearing 60 days from the decision date. Considering that wait times for a hearing are sometimes longer than 12 months, you will have some time to prepare for your hearing.

What should you do if the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies your first appeal at the reconsideration level? One option is to appeal your Social Security disability claim again.

The second level of appeal is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This article discusses the disability hearing process for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. Topics include how to prepare for a disability hearing and what to expect at the hearing.

When and Where Will My Hearing Take Place?

You will receive a notice from the SSA at least 75 days in advance. This notice will tell you the hearing's date, time, and place. Place-of-hearing options include telephone, video teleconference in an SSA facility, or in-person at a hearing office. Post-pandemic, SSA added another hearing option. You now have the choice to appear before an ALJ by online video.

You may be able to expedite your hearing if you waive the 75-day notice requirement. You should also return SSA's requested forms as soon as possible. To check the status of your hearing request, you can create and log into your online Social Security account.

Suppose you do not wish to appear at your hearing. In that case, you must file a Waiver of Your Right to Personal Appearance Before an Administrative Law Judge. The ALJ will then decide your case with only the evidence in the file.

How To Prepare for Your Disability Hearing

It is important to prepare as much as you can for your hearing. Most disability applications are approved at this level of review. Here are some tips to help you prepare for a successful hearing:

  • Consider appointing a representative: If you don't already have one, you may want to consider appointing a disability representative to handle your claim for Social Security disability benefits. This is either a disability lawyer or a non-attorney representative. Disability representatives are experts at evaluating your medical evidence to make a strong case for disability for the ALJ.
  • Review your evidence: It may be wise to review your evidence before the hearing. This will help refresh your memory about important and relevant details like medical treatments. It will also help you remember some of the first symptoms you had leading to your medical condition diagnosis. To do so, you can contact the Social Security hearing office, and they can transfer the records to you electronically through your online SSA account.
  • Prepare your testimony: Consider how you will present your testimony at the hearing. Be honest and concise. Focus on how your disability affects your ability to work and perform everyday tasks.
  • Arrive early: If your hearing is in-person or by VTC, arrive at the hearing location at least 15 minutes early. Call the hearing office as soon as possible if you miss your hearing. You may have to show you had "good cause," or a legitimate reason, for not appearing. The ALJ may dismiss or reschedule the hearing depending on whether you showed good cause.
  • Follow up with your representative: Do this after the hearing to determine the outcome and any next steps. You may need to file a further appeal if your appeal is denied.

What To Expect at Your Disability Hearing

What happens at a disability hearing generally depends on the case's complexity. But it usually involves claimant, witness, and vocational expert testimony. Sometimes a medical expert will testify as well.

Upon arrival, the ALJ introduce themselves, followed by an opening statement. The ALJ will discuss who is in the room, such as the court reporter, and explain the issues involved. After the opening statement, you will be sworn in, along with other witnesses, before testimony begins. Although the hearing level is informal, remember that everything you and the witnesses say is under oath and officially recorded.

The ALJ may ask you questions or let you testify your own way. Topics may include work history, medical condition(s), and how your impairment(s) affects your ability to work. The ALJ may also question neutral expert witnesses such as a physician or a vocational expert. The vocational expert answers hypothetical questions about the types of work someone of your age, education, past employment, and functional limitations can perform.

Suppose the ALJ has yet to ask you any questions during the hearing. In that case, you may request the opportunity to speak on your behalf or through your representative. You and your representative have the right to question all witnesses and to submit evidence.

At the end of the hearing, the ALJ will review the evidence, including all testimony, and issue a written decision. Sometimes, the ALJ will decide your claim at the hearing. This is known as a "bench decision." Suppose your claim is dismissed or you receive an otherwise unfavorable outcome. In that case, you may request a review by the SSA Appeals Council, the final agency level of the appeals process.

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Many people do not consult with an attorney when filing their initial application for a Social Security disability claim. But appealing a denied claim is often more involved, and hiring a disability attorney can make all the difference in the outcome. Increase your odds of a favorable outcome by contacting a Social Security disability attorney today. Many disability benefits attorneys offer a free evaluation. They will review your medical records to determine the strength of your case.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • The initial Social Security process doesn’t require an attorney
  • An attorney primarily handles claims that are denied
  • It can be helpful to have an attorney during Social Security benefit disputes or appeals

A Social Security lawyer can help protect your rights to your benefits.

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