Social Security Disability Hearing with a Judge

If you've been denied for Social Security Disability or SSI disability, you should file an appeal immediately. The social security administration gives each claimant 60 days in which to file an appeal; however, the appeal should really be filed as soon as possible following the receipt of a notice of denial. Why? To avoid unnecessary processing time on your claim, and also to give yourself a "time cushion" meaning that if your submitted paperwork gets lost in the mail (or lost at the social security office), you will have sufficient time to still get your disability appeal submitted before the 60 day deadline passes.

The Social Security Disability hearing appeal before a judge will be the second disability appeal and it will follow the denial of the first appeal, known as a request for reconsideration.

1. After a disability hearing is requested, it can easily take more than a year before a hearing date with an administrative law judge is set. In fact, in many states, the wait, based on current backlogs, may take more than two years.

2. Though you are not required to have representation in the form of a disability attorney or a non-attorney disability representative, having representation at the hearing is sound advice. It is a statistical fact that claimants who go to hearings by themselves are fifty percent less likely to win their cases.

Why? Because 99.9 percent of all claimants have no idea how disability claims are adjudicated and even what the relevant concepts are (such as unsuccessful work attempts, date last insured, the opinions of treating physicians, past relevant work, substantial gainful activity, recency of medical evidence).

Additionally, most claimants who go to hearings unrepresented have little idea of how to interpret the information in their cumulative social security files. That makes it very difficult to present an argument that the claim should not have been denied in the first place.

Finally, most claimants who go to hearings by themselves do an inadequate job of preparing for a disability hearing. Many are not even aware of the the fact that the judge will not gather medical records for their claim (at the hearing level, it is the responsbility of the claimant or the claimant's representative to gather additional medical evidence to support the claim).

3. Preparation for a disability hearing with a judge should not only include gathering updated medical records (this is done because the social security administration does not gather any additional records after the claim has been denied at the level prior to the hearing), but should definitely include attempts to get qualified statements from a claimant's treating physician. Ideally, a supportive statement should be obtained on something known as an RFC, or residual functional capacity form.

4. A disability hearing may take place in the presence of not only the claimant, the claimant's attorney, and the judge, but may also include experts that the judge has called on to appear, such as a vocational expert (these experts provide testimony as to the likelihood of a claimant being able to re-enter the workforce) or a medical expert. Experts are called on at the judge's discretion and their testimony can certainly affect the outcome of a claim.

However, the experts can be questioned by either an unrepresented claimant, or by the claimant's representative. Obviously, when experts have been called to testify by a judge, it makes sense to have a disability attorney present so the expert's opinions can be engaged and even challenged.

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.

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