Responsibilities of the Disability Representative Before and After the Social Security Hearing

In addition to obtaining strong evidence for the claim at a hearing, a disability representative will need to be familiar with the applicant's work history. This is because, though many applicants may not realize it, SSDI and SSI decisions are usually made on the basis of a medical vocational allowance, a type of approval that takes into account both an applicant's medical history and work history.

By evaluating the medical history, the social security administration can determine whether or not the individual has a severe mental or physical impairment, as well as what the person's limitations are. By examining the work history, SSA can gain insight into whether or not the person, given their limitations, can return to one of their former jobs, or do some type of other work.

Because the outcome of a disability case (a fully favorable approval, a partially favorable approval, or denial) will usually be based on both medical and vocational (job-related) information, the applicant who goes to a disability hearing may find that the judge has brought in expert witnesses. These witness can be either medical or vocational, or both.

A medical expert will be a physician who can provide testimony to the judge regarding the applicant's history of illness, giving the judge indications as to what the applicant is physically or mentally capable of doing. A vocational expert will be an individual who can provide expert information to the judge as to what jobs might be available to the claimant in a given geographical area based on their existing job skills, age, education, and physical or mental limitations.

When experts give testimony at a disability hearing, it falls to the applicant's disability representative to A) ask questions of the expert witness, B) pose hypothetical scenarios to the expert witness and C) possibly challenge the witness on the facts or assumptions presented in, or implicit within, their testimony to the judge.

This is not typically the type of role that can be left to the applicant and this is yet another reason why individuals who go to disability hearings without the benefit of representation can leave themselves at a distince disadvantage.

The various responsibilities of the disability representative can be summarized as follows:

1. Keeping track of the status of the disability case.

2. Responding to requests for information from the social security administration.

3. Ensuring that the applicant complies with certain directives (for example, making sure that the applicant goes to a consultative medical exam if one has been scheduled for them by SSA).

4. Filing appeal appeal paperwork in a timely fashion.

5. Keeping social security updated with regard to changes in the applicant's situation (such as medical treatment and contact information).

6. Preparation for the disability hearing, including obtaining a copy of the social security file, reviewing it, and obtaining additional evidence to strengthen the case.

7. Reviewing the decision of the administrative law judge following the hearing, particulary if the decision is not a denial but is still less than a fully favorable decision (if, for example, the decision was partially favorable, the representative would need to advise the claimant as to whether or not the decision should be accepted or appealed).

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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