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What Happens at a Disability Hearing?

If your claim for Social Security disability benefits is denied, the next step is to file a Request for Reconsideration. If you receive a second denial, you’ll then file another appeal and wait for your turn to have a disability hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Statistically, you have the greatest odds of being granted benefits at this step in the process. However, if the ALJ doesn’t rule in your favor, the chances that you will be approved for benefits at a later stage are very slim. So it’s important to do everything you can to prepare for your disability hearing.

One advantage of hiring a qualified Social Security disability attorney is that he or she can let you know what to expect at your Social Security hearing. Although the hearing process is generally straightforward, the process can be intimidating. Being able to anticipate what will happen and what kinds of questions you might be asked at your disability hearing can be reassuring and helpful.

Although most Social Security hearings are similar, there can be slight variations depending on the judge’s preference. The first thing to know is that your disability hearing will be nothing like the trials you might have seen on television dramas. Disability hearings are held in small conference rooms, and most ALJs don’t wear judge’s robes. Social Security hearings aren’t open to the public, so if you bring along a friend or family member, they’ll have to remain in the waiting room. Those present at the hearing will include you, your representative (if you have one), the ALJ, a hearing assistant (who will record or type a record of the proceedings) and possibly one or two expert witnesses hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

After identifying each person in the room, the judge will read a basic statement of facts regarding your claim. Most judges will then directly question the claimant. These questions generally revolve around your medical condition(s) and treatment, your past employment, and most importantly, the limitations that your disability imposes. Keep in mind that your hearing isn’t “you vs. them” – the judge isn’t trying to prove that you’re not disabled. He or she is simply trying to get all of the necessary facts to make a decision on whether or not you’re entitled to disability benefits. It’s important that you answer the judge’s questions honestly – don’t exaggerate, but don’t leave anything out either. Try to provide specific examples of how your disability impacts your ability to do everyday activities.

Following your testimony, the judge will usually give your representative a chance to speak on your behalf, or ask you any additional questions. If your disability attorney has planned to ask you questions, you will know this in advance. If there are expert witnesses present, the judge will then ask them for their opinions. Medical experts (who are usually doctors) will testify regarding your disabling conditions, and vocational experts (who are often job placement professionals) will provide input as to your ability to sustain employment. At the end of the hearing, the judge may ask you a few more questions, and will then ask you if you would like to say anything else.

The majority of the time, you won’t receive a decision at the hearing – it will come by mail 3-4 weeks later. However, occasionally, a judge may issue a “bench decision” and tell you whether or not they’re approving you before you leave. Even if this happens, you’ll have to wait for a written decision to be issued before you’ll begin to receive benefits.