What to Expect at Your Social Security Disability Hearing
If you are denied Social Security Disability benefits and file for an appeal, you will be scheduled to attend a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Social Security Hearings office. Over half of all claims reach a favorable outcome at the hearing stage. Nevertheless, for many claimants, the hearing stage is the most stressful part of the entire process. At the hearing, you will be expected to talk about how your condition has impacted your life, so you may get emotional while you're giving your testimony. That being said, there's no reason to be overly anxious about your hearing. Social Security Disability hearings are short; they typically last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Unlike court appearances, the hearings take place in an office-like setting or sometimes even at a bank or hotel. You will sit at a conference table, and a recorder and microphones will be used to tape the hearing. The only people who will be present at your hearing are you, the ALJ, an assistant (who operates the tape recorder), your lawyer, and possibly one or more expert witnesses. Social Security Disability hearings are small and there are no spectators, so you'll probably find it easy to relax. The hearing typically starts with the ALJ introducing the case and admitting the case file as evidence. The ALJ will then start questioning you or request your lawyer or representative to do the questioning. Although medical records and statements from your physicians will carry the most weight in the ALJ's evaluation of your case, your testimony will also be taken into account. Make sure that your answers to the ALJ's questions are honest and forthright. Don't exaggerate any limitations caused by your disability. The ALJ holds multiple hearings on a daily basis, so he'll most likely notice if you try to exaggerate your condition. Subjects that the ALJ will question you about include your background, past work experiences, and medical problems. Every judge is different, so the questions asked will vary, but there are several questions that you should be prepared to answer because they are the most frequently asked. It's better to practice answering some of these frequently asked questions beforehand, so you don't find yourself fumbling to answer them at the hearing:
- What medications are you currently taking?
- What side effects do those medications cause?
- What jobs have you performed in the last 15 years (name of employer, job title, dates of employment)?
- What is the main reason why you cannot work?
- How long can you continuously sit? What happens if you stay seated for longer than that?
- How long can you continuously stand? What happens if you stay standing for longer than that?
- How long or far can you walk? What happens if you walk longer or farther than that?
- Do you need an assistive device to walk?
- Do you have a driver's license? If so, approximately how many hours do you drive per week?
- How often do you leave your home?
- Do you experience pain? Where in your body do you feel pain?
The most important thing to remember when giving your testimony is to be specific. Rather than saying, “I can't walk for very long,” give concrete examples from your daily life that demonstrate how you have trouble walking. Similarly, don't just say you feel pain. Describe how the pain affects your daily life. Be as descriptive as possible.