Monday, March 11, 2013

What to expect at your Social Security Disability Hearing

Many of our clients get nervous when they find out that they have to appear at a Social Security Disability Hearing.  For this reason, shortly before the hearing, we like to take some time to prepare them and explain what will happen during this process.  We believe that, the better prepared our clients are, the more likely it is that they are going to win their case.  Here is a brief discussion of some of the things that we tell our clients in preparation for a hearing.
First, it is important to keep in mind that a Social Security hearing is an informal process.  It is not adversarial like most of the court proceedings shown on television.  It is held in a small court room which is presided by an Administrative Law Judge.  The hearing usually takes between 30 minutes to an hour.
During the hearing, the claimant will be asked to give testimony under oath and answer questions from his or her own attorney (if the claimant has one) and the judge.  In addition to the attorney and the judge: a court reporter, an assistant to the judge and a vocational expert, will be present at the hearing room.  The vocational expert will not ask questions directly to the claimant.  The role of this expert is to assist the judge in determining whether there are any jobs that the claimant can do based on his or her physical or mental limitations. 
The claimant should be prepared to describe his or her physical and/or mental limitations.  In order to ascertain how severe these limitations are, most judges ask many questions about the claimant’s daily activities.  For this reason, claimants should be ready to talk at great length about: their daily chores, their past-times and activities with family and friends.  Claimants should be careful not to exaggerate their limitations.  Administrative Law Judges see lots of cases everyday and can usually tell when a claimant is lying or embellishing the facts.  On the other hand, claimants should not be afraid to tell their story.  The hearing is the best time to tell the Social Security Administration why a person can’t work.  The hearing stage is the time to “lay it all out” and describe in great detail how the disabling condition affects the claimant’s life. 
The disability hearing is probably the most crucial step in a Social Security Disability claim.  Although the process is less formal that other court proceedings, the claimant should still consider hiring a Social Security Disability Lawyer, who is thoroughly familiar with the process, to appear at the hearing.