Top 7 Myths: Social Security Disability Hearings

  1. You don’t need an attorney at your disability hearing.

    While some claimants may not hire an attorney, choosing to go through the disability hearing alone is not recommended. An experienced disability attorney who specializes in these types of claims can increase your chances of being approved. Finding the right attorney can greatly impact the result of your claim and save you time and hassle. A disability attorney in Michigan can review your claim, submit pertinent medical records, draft and obtain detailed and supportive medical letters from your doctors, prepare legal briefs, and make the necessary arguments to help you win. While a disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is informal, there are certain rules that must be followed and questions that will arise. Having an attorney can help you be prepared and confident, ultimately increasing your chances of approval. So, while no claimant is required to have an attorney for their disability hearing, having an experienced Michigan disability attorney can mean the difference between an approval and denial.

  2. The questions asked by an ALJ are the same for every hearing.

    The style of questioning during a disability hearing varies from ALJ, and the questions posed during a hearing are not typically the same. The ALJ will be looking for issues in your case that will come up during the hearing which you should be prepared to answer. The issues that could arise are unique to your case based on the evidence, and any issue or red flag could influence the decision, from work or hobbies during the relevant period to forms not completed or records outstanding to name a few. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard or unprepared for the questions during the hearing.  Some ALJs ask many questions, while others only a few. An attorney well-versed in disability benefits will be sure to not only ask you questions that could help your case that the ALJ may have left out or neglected to ask, but also cross-examine the vocational expert who will most likely be present for your hearing as well. The bottom line is that you will want to be prepared for every question and any issue that may arise. Hiring the right attorney can make a world of difference to make sure you are prepared for any questions that may arise based on your case and the ALJ assigned to conduct your hearing.

  3. If you get denied by the ALJ the first time, you can always re-apply.

    If an ALJ finds you to be not disabled, it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, for you to be eligible for disability benefits. There are many factors that could affect eligibility for disability benefits, including your work credits and the expiration date for which you must prove your disability began, and more. If the date of the ALJ decision is after your date last insured, or when your work credits expire, you may not have another chance to become eligible for disability benefits. It is critical that you put yourself in the best position possible to be approved before your hearing. You also have a set, limited timeframe for which to file an appeal from a decision denying your disability case. In most cases, you have only 60 days to file an appeal, plus 5 days for mailing, but this is not always the case. You will need to pay close attention to deadlines and make sure nothing is missed or you could miss out on benefits that you may otherwise be entitled to. More often than not, when you re-apply, you will not be eligible for additional past-due benefits from the prior application. Consulting with an experienced attorney from the start can help ensure that you are in the best position to be approved.

  4. It takes years for a hearing to be scheduled.

    While hearing times vary based on many factors, including the ALJ’s hearing docket and personal schedule, location of the hearing offices, national backlog, and more, the wait time for a hearing has been drastically less than previous years. Prior to the pandemic, hearing times were upwards of 12 months, and sometimes even longer, from the time that a request for a hearing was filed. However, since 2020 and the availability of both phone hearings since the beginning of the pandemic, and video hearings in 2021 through Microsoft Teams, the hearing backlog has been substantially decreased. Furthermore, there are ways that a hearing date can be expedited, including for those with terminal conditions, veteran ‘Wounded Warrior’ status, and for those who can demonstrate significant financial hardship. An experienced disability attorney will be sure to screen for any factors that may allow for your case to be expedited. It is important that you discuss your situation, and any changes along the way, with your attorney so that they understand and can advocate for you in the best way possible.

  5. Social Security Disability hearings are intimidating.

    A disability hearing before an ALJ can be intimidating, but it does not have to be. An experienced disability attorney can alleviate some of the stress and worry over your court date and answering questions the ALJ may have. You will be under oath to tell the truth during your hearing. There will most likely be a Vocational Expert present, and there could also be a Medical Expert who will also be under oath and provide testimony during your hearing. You will want to know this ahead of time and be ready for what to expect at every stage, especially during your hearing. At Disability Law Group, our attorney will take the time to carefully review all evidence and prepare you for exactly what to expect in order to ensure there are not any surprises. Knowing that someone is on your side and willing to fight for you when entering the hearing, will definitely put your mind at ease. Most importantly, an attorney will cover the questions ahead of time, cross-examine any witnesses who may be present, and make arguments on your behalf to help you win the benefits you deserve while putting your mind at ease over the process.

  6. You will receive the ALJ’s decision on the day of your hearing.

    While in some circumstances a decision can be made on the day of the hearing, this is not always true. Usually, you will not find out what the ALJ’s decision will be on the day of your hearing. In any case, after the hearing takes place, the ALJ will issue a written decision stating if you were denied or approved for disability benefits. A denial from an ALJ will state “Unfavorable” whereas an approval will read either “Partially Favorable” or “Fully Favorable”. Further, your case could be dismissed for a variety of reasons, including failure to appear or based on a motion granted by the ALJ. A disability attorney can go through your decision in detail with you, advising you on the next steps and what your options are. If the decision is favorable, your attorney can advise you on how the process works to get your benefits started, and what you might need to do for that process. However, if your decision is not favorable, your attorney can explain your appeal rights. With this decision, there is a written explanation for the reasoning and logic of their particular decision in your case. Your appeal rights, should you choose to file an appeal, will also be reflected in the decision. Not only is every case different, but ALJ’s decision-making process also can vary greatly. Typically, a decision takes anywhere from 30 to 60 days, on average, to be issued from the date of the hearing, and both you and your attorney will be notified of the decision by mail.

  7. All disability attorneys are the same.

    Not all disability attorneys are the same, but there are a few key factors you can consider in determining the best attorney for you. When looking for an attorney, experience, expertise, and compassion are all critical markers. Checking out what other people have to say, and reading through testimonials from prior clients of the firm, are usually the most helpful. Take your time to be sure the attorney is responsive and will truly listen to your concerns. Reputations matter in any line of work, and ALJ’s know firsthand how prepared, knowledgeable and empathetic attorneys are who appear before them. In order to know your case and understand how to help you best, you will want an attorney who is available and will take the time to listen. You should not have to go days without a return call or be left in the dark about your case. Our legal team has years of experience focused on social security disability matters and we know the ins and outs of the process. Having a skilled disability attorney by your side can help alleviate the pressure of deadlines and paperwork, and help you feel confident and prepared. Compassion is also key to ensuring your rights are truly being protected and that you are receiving the full amount of benefits that you deserve.

The above examples are only some of the more common misconceptions regarding an SSD hearing before an ALJ. There are many other myths surrounding disability hearings, as well as confusion regarding the disability claim and appeal process. Please know that you do not need to go at the process alone. You can contact our attorneys at 800-838-1100 or through our website at https://disabilitylawgroup.com/ for a free consultation. Our legal team is more than happy to assist you or your loved one in making the right decision for you.

disabled man going to disability hearing

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.

Disability attorney meeting couple about benefits.

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.