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There are a number of things that will happen at any disability hearing, regardless of your medical conditions, how strong your case is, or whether the judge is predisposed to approve the disability claim.
For example, your representative, who may be an attorney or non-attorney, will usually have done the following: 1) submitted your most recent medical records (which is very important since Social Security stops all work on getting your records after the first appeal, the request for reconsideration), 2) obtained and submitted a medical source statement from at least one of your doctors, 3) possibly submitted a pre-hearing brief to cite the specifics and strengths of the case.
Those are things that should be done on every case assuming that the representative is competent. But what actually happens at the hearing? Read on to learn the answer.
What really happens at a disability hearing
So, it’s my belief that the more you know about how things may and can go in a disability hearing, the more prepared and mentally comfortable you may be. So here’s the list:
1 – The judge (ALJ, or administrative law judge) will begin the hearing by identifying him or herself, and will then ask a series of question to identify you, the claimant. They will ask your name, age, weight, height, level of education, what kind of home you live in, whether you have minor-age children, when you last worked, and the type of work you did.
More importantly, the judge will ask you what your past work required of you. Meaning what you did on the job on a normal day. They will likewise ask you what do at home on a normal day.
Why do they ask you these questions? First, to get an idea of whether you can actually go back to one of your past jobs. Secondly, to get an idea of what you can still do, or have difficulty doing. For example, if you have back or knee issues, or COPD, you may have trouble grocery shopping. You might have to be dropped off at the front of a store because you can’t walk more than a few minutes due to shortness of breath or pain. If you have issues with your hands or arms or shoulders, you may be unable to pick up items and place them into the cart.
So…it is very important that you accurately describe your physical and/or mental limitations at the hearing. Here’s something else. When you first apply for disability, you are asked to complete a function report. Too many individuals do not pay attention to filling this form out properly, but this is really a claimant’s first opportunity to tell Social Security about their various limitations, so it should be handled seriously. Which means you should provide a substantial amount of detail on the form versus just “half-assing” it.
Important: fill out the function report completely, mention your limitations when you describe your daily activities, and do not pull any punches when it comes to listing the things you have trouble doing, such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, reaching, stooping, crouching, etc.
2- The judge at the disability hearing will allow the person who represents you to make an opening statement. This statement is very important to your case and presents an excellent example of why you should not represent yourself. This is the point at which it may be pointed out how your prior denials were made, why those denials were wrong, why your medical evidence shows that you meet the rules to qualify for disability benefits, and why you cannot return to your past work or do any other kind of work. A person representing themselves will simply not know how to do this.
3 – The judge may have a vocational expert present. Usually, they do. Their purpose is to provide commentary on your past work and whether, with your limitations, you would be able to return to this, or, again, do other work. After the VE does this, your representative is given the opportunity to cross examine the VE. Again, this is not something an unrepresented person will know how to do.
4 – The judge may ask you about your past work, what you did, and also what you do on a normal day. Once more, this is to get an idea of what you are currently capable of, and whether you can return to work. A person who is unrepresented may tend to ramble, veer off into tangents, get confused, or perhaps not even remember properly. This is enough to do if you consider that sometimes we, as people, will forget what we are shopping for once we enter a store.
And it is yet another example of why a person should be represented at a hearing. Because a disability representative will typically do a pre-hearing consultation to get you ready for your hearing. This can include practive questioning, go over the demands of past jobs, going over the medical history, and such.