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What Will Happen at My Disability Hearing?
Author: Attorney Greg Reed
Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be difficult and very time-consuming. After all the work you put in, and sometimes despite the fact that you do suffer from a disabling medical or mental condition, your application may be denied.
Did you know that you can appeal a denied disability application?
You have the right to appeal the decision and the right to a hearing before a judge to explain how your condition affects you and your ability to work. If your application for SSD benefits was denied, contact the Law Offices of Bemis, Roach and Reed. Our experienced disability lawyers have been serving clients in Austin, TX and surrounding areas for over 20 years. We can help you prepare for a disability hearing and will fight to get you the benefits you need. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.
What Will Happen at My Disability Hearing?
During your appeal of a denied Social Security Disability benefits application, you can request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. This judge is in charge of the hearing and will determine whether you should in fact receive SSD. Before the hearing, Bemis, Roach and Reed will help prepare you to answer questions about your condition. The judge will ask you similar questions during the hearing about how your condition affects your daily life and your work. Typically questions judges ask during disability hearings include:
- How long can you sit comfortably before needing to move?
- How long can you stand before needing to sit down?
- How far can you walk before needing to stop?
- Can you kneel, squat, or bend over?
- What are your symptoms?
- How long have you suffered from your condition?
- How has your condition impacted your ability to work?
It is very important to be honest and specific with your answers.
These hearings are designed for the judge to get a detailed understanding of how your disabling medical or mental condition affects your life. Some questions may cause you to feel embarrassed, but remember that it is the judge’s job to know how well you can or cannot function. The judge will use the information you provide to determine whether you should receive disability benefits. Along with your answers, the judge will use your medical records to determine your eligibility. These medical records will prove that your medical or mental condition is severe enough to prevent you from working and functioning normally.
Generally, as discussed on the Social Security Administration website, these appeals are held in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).
A clerk in the ALJ’s office will contact you to set up a hearing date, on which you will be able to submit updated medical records to establish that you are, in fact, disabled and entitled to disability benefits. Because the applicant lost originally, the burden to prove disabled status rests with the applicant on appeal. To meet this burden, the applicant will often need to submit additional or more specific proof than was submitted in the original application.
The hearing, while technically neutral, is often more adversarial than it may seem.
This is because the ALJ may choose to bring in a “Vocational Expert” to assess an applicant’s ability to return to work. While the vocational expert is employed by the ALJ, often the expert stands in opposition to the applicant’s claim, arguing that the applicant can perform the essential functions of certain jobs. The effect of the vocational expert’s testimony, if adopted by the judge, might lead to another denial.
Applicants are given the opportunity to cross examine the vocational expert.
This is best done by a licensed attorney experienced in disability and Social Security matters. Cross examination gives applicants a chance to expose any weakness in the expert’s assessment of the applicant. Sometimes the expert’s assessments are very generic and actually tell the ALJ little about the applicant’s ability to return to work. Through effective cross examination, a lawyer can lessen the likelihood an ALJ will adopt the potentially harmful and incorrect assessments of the vocational expert.
As your attorney prepares for the appeal process before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the following suggestions may prove beneficial as you personally prepare for your meeting with the ALJ.
Although you are not required to retain legal counsel, if may be in your best interest to have your legal advocate by your side. Plan on arriving early. First impressions count. Your manner of dress should be conservative, so avoid suggestive or informal attire.
Remember that you are appearing before a judge; be respective and polite. When addressing the ALJ, the use of “Your Honor” is expected. Also, be mindful that you are already standing when the ALJ enters the room, as this indicates a sign of respect.
Although you may have conflicting emotions of having to “fight” for your right to SSDI benefits, keep your emotions in check. Avoid appearing the least bit confrontational.
Remind yourself that the ALJ appointed to your case was not responsible for the initial denial of your SSDI claim.
Although your SSDI attorney will accompany you to the appeal hearing, the ALJ will ask questions of you directly. When answering, remain confident in your answers and avoid becoming overly emotional. Provide full responses and stay on topic, offering no less or no more but always enough to satisfy the ALJ’s inquiry.
Keep in mind that all details of your personal life may be open for interpretation. Keep in mind, embarrassing as it may be, the ALJ has heard countess SSDI cases. The goal of the ALJ is to understand the complexities of your situation as they relate to your SSDI eligibility.
Appearing before an Administrative Law Judge can be intimidating.
Understanding what to expect during the appeal process may not only ease your apprehension but also predetermine the best testimony supporting your appeal for benefits.
Perhaps you and your attorney can predetermine areas that may be in question and rehearse your responses. This exercise will familiarize you with the appeal process and possibly decrease your apprehension.
How Can a Disability Lawyer Help Me?
The appeals process can be very complicated, and trying to prepare for a disability hearing alone is very challenging. Fortunately, you do not have to figure everything out yourself. Our skilled disability lawyers help Texans just like you appeal denied disability applications. We understand how disability hearings work and will thoroughly prepare you for your day in court. If you live in Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Galveston, Central Texas, or Corpus Christi, contact us today for a free initial consultation.