Social Security Disability and Going In Front Of A Judge - What Happens?

If you have followed the Social Security Disability appeal process, you will eventually be scheduled for a disability hearing before an administrative law judge. Social Security hearings are generally held in an informal hearing room, something like a business meeting room.

Generally, it will be you and your representative and any witnesses or experts that you and/or your representative have chosen to call as part of your disability case. Of course, there is an administrative law judge present and any vocational or medical experts present that they feel might be needed to help them make their disability decision. Most often, there are not many people in attendance.

Once the hearing begins, the administrative law judge might ask you some questions about your medical condition or conditions, how they affect your ability to work or perform regular daily activities, or any other question that the judge deems pertinent to your disability case. You should be prepared to answer questions thoroughly and to the best of your ability.

If you have a representative (a disability lawyer or non-attorney claimant's representative), they may have experts that they feel will help the administrative law judge understand how your condition or conditions limit your functional capacity and render you unable to perform work that is self sustaining.

However, this is usually an unlikely scenario. Typically, if you have representation, you will simply show up at the hearing with your attorney. Prior to the hearing, your disability attorney will have done the following:

1. Reviewed your prior file -- This file includes copies of your denials that were issued at the disability application and requestion for reconsideration (the first appeal is the reconsideration) levels, and copies of the medical evidence that was obtained by the disability examiners who rendered those earlier decisions.

It also includes copies of documentation that constitute the case development for your claim; for example copies of your work activity questionaires, your activities of daily questionaire, and the residual functional capacity forms that were completed by the doctors who provided consultation for each disability examiner who worked on your claim.

By reviewing the prior file, your disability lawyer will be able to gain an understanding of what occurred in the development of your case, what the rationale was for denying your claim, and whether or not evaluative or procedural errors were made on your case (such as failing to properly interpret medical evidence or failing to apply a medical-vocational rule properly).

2. Gathered updated medical record documentation -- Most claimants become aware of the fact that social security gathers medical records in order to make a decision on a claim. However, most are likewise unaware that, at the hearing level, social security does not do any record gathering at all. At this level of the system, it is entirely the responsibility of the claimant and his or her social security lawyer to provide updated medical records.

Of course, since disability hearings tend to occur many months after they are actually requested, a failure to present a disability judge with recent medical records will naturally mean that it will be impossible for the claimant to win their case.

The amount of preparation done for a case that is presented at a hearing is often directly reflected in the decision of the administrative law judge. Howeve, the decision of the disability judge can take quite a while. At the hearing, the judge may or may not indicate to the claimant and the claimant's attorney what the decision will be.

However, even if the judge does indicate that "the case will be paid" (i.e. approved), it may still weeks or months for the claimant to receive A) a notice of decision from the hearing office and B) a notice of award detailing what the claimant's monthly benefits will be and how much they can expect to receive in social security back pay.

Is the disability hearing process openly adversarial or hostile? It usually is not, but it can be. There are many instances in which administrative law judges who decide disability claims have taken the position of being openly condescending in questioning the claimant about their condition, their limitations, or their work history. And very often it would seem as though the judge has already made up their mind prior to the hearing itself.

This certainly does happen, of course (judges arriving at decisions before a hearing takes place). But, sometimes it happens in the claimant's best interests when a judge reviews the file, determines that the case should never have been denied at earlier levels, and decides to approve the case on-the-record, thus rendering the holding of a hearing unnecessary.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

Most popular topics on

Social Security Disability in North Carolina

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Tips to Prepare for Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI

Advice to Win SSD and SSI Benefit Claims

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Related pages:

How to get Disability, tip 2
How to dress for a disability hearing
Can I lose my disability benefit if I file an appeal for back pay?
Social Security Disability and Going In Front Of A Judge - What Happens?
Do Most People Need To See A Judge To Get Disability Benefits From Social Security?
Can you still Appeal if the Judge denies your Disability Claim?
Is An ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) More Likely To Grant A Claim For Social Security Disability or SSI?
How Long Does It Take To Go Before A Judge For Disability Benefits?
Does The Social Security Judge Use The Same Rules As The Disability Examiner?
How do I see a judge for my Social Security Disability case or SSI Claim?
Do you have to see a judge to get disability benefits?
When do you see a judge for a Social Security Disability or SSI claim?
What Percentage Of Social Security Disability or SSI Cases Does A Judge Deny?
What if I receive disability and want to cash out an IRA?