How a Lawyer Can Help You Prepare for a Disability Hearing

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.

What to Expect at Your SSD/SSI Appeals Hearing in Michigan

If your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) got denied, you have a right to appeal that decision. There are four levels of appeal that we specialize in here at Disability Law Group: 

  1. Request a reconsideration of the decision 
  2. Have a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) 
  3. Get a review by the Appeals Council 
  4. File for a review by a federal court 

If you have a hearing scheduled with an administrative law judge, it could be useful to know what to expect at your SSD/SSI appeals hearing. An experienced Michigan SSD/SSI attorney could help you through all four levels of appeal. 

The Appeals Hearing

Once you request a hearing on your appeal, the Social Security Administration (SSA) might ask you to give them more information about your claim or to clarify things in your file. Also, you can take a look at the items in your file and add new information. 

You can have a representative attend the hearing with you. An attorney who has extensive experience specializing in disability claims can help you at every step of the way, including at the hearing to be sure your file is complete, supportive evidence is obtained, and all relevant arguments are presented. You can have medical or vocational experts participate in the hearing. In most adult hearings, a vocational expert will be part of the process to provide testimony. The administrative law judge will question you during the hearing and any witnesses you may have at the hearing. You or your representative may also ask questions of any of the witnesses. 

The hearing follows a structure similar to that of a traditional hearing in a courtroom. However, unlike the trials that you see on TV, or may have experience with yourself, the disability hearings before an administrative law judge are much more informal. Whether your hearing takes place in person or by video teleconference, or even by phone in some cases, it is usually to your advantage to be a part of the hearing so that you have the opportunity to present testimony to support your case and give additional helpful details. 

People seldom get a decision from the judge at the hearing. The judge will review any new information you submitted as well as the file on record, your testimony, and the testimony of any witnesses who participated in the hearing. The judge will make a ruling and write a decision. The SSA will send you a letter and a copy of the decision. 

Types of SSD/SSI Appeals Hearings

Typically, the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) holds SSD/SSI appeals hearings in person or by video teleconference. If you have extremely unusual circumstances, you might be able to have your hearing by telephone. While an in-person hearing is typically most ideal, there may be some situations where a video or telephone hearing may be recommended. However, each option presents unique differences and it is important to consult with an experienced attorney about the advantages or disadvantages given your situation and the facts of your case before making your decision. 

COVID-19 and SSD/SSI Hearings

Because of COVID-19, the traditional ways of handling hearings have changed temporarily.  You will want to confer with your lawyer to find out how and where and how your hearing will take place. Also, please the procedures outlined in this article might get changed temporarily because of COVID-19. Our attorneys are staying up-to-date on policy changes with each Social Security and hearing office, and are taking advantage of new options and technologies to expedite and optimize the process for our clients.

Appeals Hearing About Medical and Non-Medical Determinations 

If you were denied benefits and the SSA ruled against you in the reconsideration, you can request a hearing, either for a medical determination or a non-medical determination. The administrative law judge who handles your hearing will not have participated in any earlier stage of the process. At a hearing, new evidence can be obtained and submitted to help support your case and ensure that you are being given your day in court. 

Most people have to go through at least one stage of appeals to get SSD/SSI benefits. Contact one of our disability attorneys today. Our Michigan SSD/SSI attorneys can help you go after the benefits you deserve.