Prepare for your Disability Hearing the right way to Win Benefits

Individuals who go to disability hearings in an attempt to win Social Security Disability or SSI disability benefits generally have their best chance of success at this level versus any other level of the system. Approximately, sixty percent of claimants who have representation on their disability claim are awarded benefits.

However, the flip side to this is that roughly forty percent of hearing appellants will be denied. A forty percent denial rate is significant and represents enough of a danger that a claimant whose case will be decided at a hearing should do everything in their power to have their case properly prepared.

The following list applies to both represented and non-represented claimants whose case will be heard at the administrative law judge level.

Proper preparation for a disability hearing will include:

1. Making sure, at a proper time before the holding of the hearing, that the most recent medical records are obtained, copied (you always need to keep copies) and sent to the judge at the hearing office. Timing is very important on this because administrative law judges, just as disability examiners, need to see medical evidence that can be considered to be current. "Current" means not older than ninety days. Therefore, if the records are obtained too soon before the hearing, they may be too old by the time of the hearing. Fortunately, most disability lawyers will know when updated medical records should be obtained so that they will not be out-of-date when the hearing is conducted.

2. Obtaining, if at all possible, a medical source statement from at least one of the claimant's treating physicians. A treating physician is a medical doctor who has a history of providing treatment to the claimant and, thus, is qualified to comment regarding the claimant's history of illness and treatment, as well as comment on the claimant's specific limitations and the prognosis and outlook for their condition. A medical source statement is simply a detailed and objective statement supplied by the treating physician which describes the claimant's condition and resulting limitations (known as the RFC, or residual functional capacity).

The medical source statement can be hand written, typed, or the doctor can simply fill out a form that has been provided by the claimant's disability attorney. As long as the statement is signed by the doctor, and as long as the statement is not out-of-line with the information contained in the doctor's own office treatment notes, the statement can be viewed as authoritative.

Medical source statements, or residual functional capacity statements, are often not given full consideration at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels. However, at the disability hearing level, such statements can provide the necessary evidence for winning a claim. And this is why disability attorneys generally attempt to obtain these statements for the purpose of presenting them at a hearing.

Properly preparing for a disability hearing will also include:

A) Reviewing the case file to determine why the claim was denied prior to the hearing level,

B) Learning about the claimant's medical treatment history, and

C) Learning about the claimant's work history.

By being familiar with this information, and by obtaining the proper medical evidence (treatment records and statements from treating physicians), it becomes much more likely for the claimant and their representative at the hearing to construct an argument as to why disability benefits can be granted.

Of course, it goes without saying that claimants who do not take the initiative to properly prepare in advance of a hearing date will put themselves at an extreme disadvantage, which could easily mean the difference between winning or losing the disability case.

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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