A lawyer can help you prepare for a disability hearing by educating you on what to expect, evaluating your claim for its weakest and strongest points, and preparing the best strategies to help position you to be approved. Unless you have been through the process before, it can be unnerving when you do not know what to expect. Even if you have applied before or even had a prior hearing, Social Security Disability laws and regulations are regularly changing.
Disability hearings can differ greatly depending on the preferences of the administrative law judge (ALJ) and the specific reasons for the prior denial of your current claim. Representation by a skilled and experienced disability attorney will prepare you for the series of questions you can expect to be asked. A Michigan SSDI attorney can advocate for you from the beginning to make sure you are prepared and confident.
What to Expect at a Disability Hearing
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses administrative law judges (ALJs) to handle hearings when people appeal adverse decisions in their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications. The hearings are more informal than typical courtroom trials.
In fact, you are unlikely to go to a courtroom for your disability hearing. Most likely, the ALJ will meet with you in a conference room and may not be wearing a judge’s robe. There will not be many people present in the hearing room as disability hearings are considered private and closed off to the public. However, hearings may be held by phone or through video utilizing the hearing office’s software. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts have remained closed to the public for health and safety reasons; however, the hearing offices have been conducting phone or, more recently, video hearings.
An experienced attorney can explain what option will work best given the unique circumstances in your case. You may be able to have another person testify at your hearing, or even be present just for moral support, such as a family member or friend. Your attorney will explain who will be present at your hearing – either in-person, by phone, or in video form – as well as their role.
During the hearing, the judge identifies everyone in the room or on the line who will be made part of your hearing process, and then he or she will read a summary of the hearing process, reviewing some details about you and your case. The judge will ask you questions, usually focused on your past work relevant work experience, your symptoms, the problems you feel that you have, and your typical day.
After the judge finishes questioning you, your lawyer can ask you additional questions to cover essential points the judge did not address. If you do not have a lawyer, the judge will ask you if you have any questions or would like to provide any additional testimony.
If there are expert witnesses present at the hearing, like doctors or vocational experts, they will testify as well. During the hearing, the ALJ may ask a vocational expert to identify your past work experience under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, and this becomes especially important if you are 50 years of age or older. The vocational expert may then be asked hypothetical questions by the ALJ about your “residual functional capacity,” and your ability to perform either your past work or other work despite the identified limitations. Your lawyer can cross-examine the vocational expert and make a closing statement on your behalf. Medical experts are sometimes present to cover the medical limitations, whether your condition(s) meets or medically equals a Listing(s), and more. Your attorney will be able to question the medical expert from anything concerning their qualifications to the additional limitations you may have.
However, it’s important to not expect a decision on the spot. While it is possible that the judge could tell you what his or her decision will be in your case during the hearing, most of the time that is not the case. Either way, you can expect to receive the decision through regular mail. If you are represented, your attorney will also receive a mailed copy of the decision and will review everything with you in detail so that you know what to do to begin receiving your benefits.
What Happens if the Judge Rules Against You
Do not despair if the judge denies your request for benefits. Getting disability benefits is often a long and arduous path. The vast majority of people get turned down on their initial application. Many people experience adverse decisions at the first hearing as well. However, an experienced attorney will be sure that you know what your options and rights are, and help you at every step of the way.
If you do not agree with the decision of the administrative law judge at the first hearing, you have the right to file a request for review by the Appeals Council so long as you file that appeal within the deadline. Whether you have already been denied or would like help from the start, a Michigan SSDI attorney can help you pursue the disability benefits you deserve. Get in touch with our office today.