Thursday, April 18, 2024

How To Win A Social Security Disability Hearing

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How to Win Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Sign up for my email list below and receive a free copy of the very same questions I use to prepare my clients for their hearing.

Although this list is not exhaustive, these are some of the most common questions judges usually ask claimants during the hearing.

Feel free to add your own answers to that list and be sure that it covers the majority of your impairments so you dont forget anything at the hearing.

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Until next time,

Advice For Appealing A Denial Of Social Security Disability Benefits

We regularly talk to Social Security disability claimants who are discouraged by the denial of their applications. They should not feel bad, for 65% of initial applications are denied.

However, the majority of claimants who appeal will ultimately be found disabled, so if you feel you cannot work you should appeal.

How To Apply For Social Security Disability

If you become disabled and are no longer able to work, you should apply for disability benefits as soon as possible. The typical application process takes at least six months, and most people have to file an appeal after their initial application is denied. Theres also a five-month waiting period before your disability payments start.

If there are delays in the application process, you will usually be eligible to receive back pay of your benefits. However, you may struggle to pay your bills in the meantime depending on your level of savings.

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Winning In Federal Court

The federal court does not hear the case from the beginning. Once the claimants lawyer files the appeal, the Social Security Administration files its answer along with the transcript of the hearing and the supporting materials. The U.S. District Court reviews everything and considers the arguments and briefs submitted by the lawyers.

The judge examines whether there is substantial evidence to support the finding of the ALJ who conducted the hearing and whether the hearing judge made any errors in assessing the testimony or the medical records. If the U.S. District Court judge determines that the ALJ overlooked some significant fact or neglected to include specific findings to support their conclusions, then the federal judge can remand the case, meaning they send it back to the Social Security Administration to be reconsidered.

Submitting Evidence Prior To The Hearing

How to Win a Social Security Disability Hearing ...

Your medical records are obviously the most important thing in your case .

One thing that most claimants are not aware is that after the case was sent to the hearing track or the ODAR , Social Security will no longer order medical records on your behalf.

So from the time you request a hearing until the day of the hearing,

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Know What Questions To Expect

You may be more comfortable if you know what kinds of questions to expect during the hearing. The administrative law judge will likely ask you for your name, Social Security number, age, mailing address, height and weight. After that, you should be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • What is your formal education?
  • Do you have any vocational training?
  • Are you currently working?
  • What was your last job and what were your job responsibilities?
  • Have you tried working since you became disabled?
  • Where else have you worked in the last 15 years and what were your job responsibilities?
  • What is your diagnosis?
  • What treatments have you tried?
  • Do your treatments have any side effects?
  • How does your disability impact your daily activities?
  • How does your disability impact your ability to take care of yourself?
  • How long can you sit, stand, or walk without needing a break?
  • How much can you lift?
  • How often do you need to take breaks?
  • Do you have any issues getting along with supervisors, co-workers, clients, or customers?
  • Do you have any difficulties concentrating or remembering things?

Not every question will be asked at your hearing, but it is important to be prepared and to know how to answer the questions that pertain to your disability before you walk into the hearing room.

Don’t Ramble Or Go Off Subject

For most claimants, the hearing process is a nerve-wracking experience. If, like many of us, you are prone to ramble on when under pressure, it’s important that you be especially prepared to provide succinct answers to the ALJ’s questions. When a claimant answers questions with longwinded explanations that stray from the ALJ’s question, the ALJ may stop listening and miss important statements you make, or he or she may become irritated and interrupt you.

It may be helpful to practice answering questions with your attorney or a friend. If you find yourself digressing from the topic of the question, stop, take a deep breath, and refocus your answer. If you have an attorney, he or she should either practice the questions with you or provide you with a copy of the questions you are likely to face well before the hearing date so that you can familiarize yourself with them.

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When Your Appeal Goes Back To The Hearings Level

Sometimes when the Social Security Appeals Council reviews your appeal of a hearing denial, they will decide that some aspect of your case was not fully investigated and will return your claim to the administrative law judge who handled it previously with instructions about what aspect of your claim needs additional investigation. This is called remanding your case. Remand often results in a second hearing.

Dont Provide More Information Than Necessary

Signs You have Won Your Social Security Disability Hearing

It goes without saying that when the ALJ asks a question, you must answer honestly. But when it comes to testifying, the adage less is more applies.

Often a persons nerves get the better of them and they begin rambling when answering questions. Not only does this waste the courts time, but it can also lead to sharing information that can actually hurt your case. So, when answering questions, offer only the information that is asked for no more, no less. If the ALJ or attorneys want more information, theyll ask for it.

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How To Win A Disability Appeal Without A Lawyer

Yes, its possible to win a disability appeal without hiring a lawyer. The SSA also doesnt require you to have one. But statistics prove that you are more likely to get approved if you have a lawyer.

Why is that?

First of all, lawyers have extensive knowledge of the legalities concerning disability claims. They know what the law says and therefore can determine what particular provisions apply to your case. Since they handle a lot of disability cases, they already know the system like the back of their hand. They know what the SSA wants to see and how to make them see it.

If youre worried about the cost, dont. Disability lawyers only get paid when you win your case. If you get denied, you wont have to pay anything. Its essentially a win-win situation.

But if youre confident that you can win your case yourself, here are some tips and tricks to ace the disability appeals process.

Will I Receive A Notice From The Social Security Administration Explaining My Benefits

Yes. That notice is usually called a Notice of Award. This notice will show the date of entitlement and the amounts of benefits for all months of back benefits. It will show the total amount of benefits to be paid to you. It will show the amount of benefits withheld for direct payment of attorneys fees. It may also give you information about your Medicare eligibility and monthly Medicare premium. It may also give you some information about when to expect a continuing disability review.

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You Must Order And Submit Medical Records So That The Judge Will Have Recent And Updated Medical Records To Evaluate Your Case

I cant tell you how many times I receive calls with claimants trying to get an attorney prior to the hearing and I see that there is a huge gap in medical treatment.

Often times, its not that the claimant has not gone to the doctor. The claimant simply didnt know that Social Security was no longer ordering records and when they show up at the hearing there are no new treatment records to look at.

We are talking an average of 2 years of missing records that didnt make it into the file!

And here are some scenarios that usually happens when there is a big gap like that:

Be Ready To Explain Gaps In Your Medical History

How to Win a Social Security Disability Hearing ...

Sometimes, a disability claimant will have periods of time during which he or she received little or no medical treatment. An ALJ will question a claimant about these gaps in care. Be prepared to give an honest answer as to why you didn’t seek treatment. If you were without insurance, state this. If your symptoms briefly improved during that time, it is better to state and explain this than to give an untruthful answer, because once you lose credibility with the judge, you risk losing your disability claim.

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Contact A Florida Social Security Disability Attorney Now For Help

In Florida, the Social Security disability attorneys of Rue & Ziffra know how to get results. Our Social Security disability team is led by Attorney Luis Gracia, a specialist in this field and a board-certified Social Security disability lawyer. We fight tirelessly to get you the results you deserve. Call 1-800-JUSTICE or contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation or to speak with a Social Security disability lawyer now.

If You Just Requested Your Hearing There Is Still Time To Fix Your Records:

I recently created a course on How to Read Your Medical Records like a pro so you can find out if your records are actually supporting your claim.

If they are not, then you learn exactly what to do to fix your medical records in time for your hearing.

Simply click on the image below and you will be directed to the course page:

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Listen To Your Lawyer

Hopefully you will be working with a disability attorney who will be representing you in your Social Security Disability claim. Your attorney should have prepared you for your disability hearing and the type of questions you will be asked in court.

Your lawyer is a professional and he or she understands what it will take to win your disability case. Make sure you heed your attorney’s advice if you want to receive the Social Security Disability benefits you need. They are your best shot at getting the benefits you need, which is why you should contact one as soon as possible.

Submit The Request For A Hearing Right Away

Rarely Used Evidence that Can Win Your Disability Hearing

An unfavorable decision can be a huge disappointment, but you do not have time to dwell on it. The only way to win at a hearing is by immediately requesting one. You have only 60 days from receipt of the decision to file a written request for a hearing.

Do not assume that you have the full 60 days to file the appeal from when you receive the notice. Social Security presumes the clock starts running five days after the date it mailed the decision and notice of your right to appeal. It does not take into consideration delays caused by the United States Postal Service.

The best thing to do is file for a hearing as soon as you receive the adverse decision. While it is true that you may request an extension in the event you do not file on time, you must explain the reason for the delay and hope an extension is granted. The better practice is to submit your request for a hearing without delay.

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You Go Through With Your Hearing Despite The Judge Suggesting A Continuance And You Get Denied

Say, you appeal to the Appeals Council saying that the judge made many mistakes in the decision.

But here is what the Appeals Council is looking for:

What records were available to the judge at the hearing? And based on those records, was the judge incorrect in his ultimate decision?

If your records were incomplete and all the judge had were records from 2 years prior to the hearing, of course, he will deny the case!

In this situation, the Appeals Council is correct in siding with the judge because of that huge gap.

Consider this: How could the judge tell if you were disabled if there were two years of missing records?

How To Appeal A Denial

The Social Security Administration provides several ways to appeal. Whichever way you choose to appeal, it is a good idea to obtain proof that you appealed on time .

Go to your local Social Security office to file your appeal. You can find the address in your denial letter. Take along the denial letter, a list of current medications and a list of names and addresses of all medical care providers you have seen since you last updated SSA – since you filed your claim or last appealed – so that you can complete all appeal papers at the Social Security office with the help of a claims representative. Be sure the SSA claims representative gives you a copy of everything you submit and a receipt for your appeal.

Appeal by phone and mail. Telephone SSA at 1-800-772-1213 and explain that you want to appeal. You will be sent the appropriate appeal form, a Disability Report – Appeal, and an Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration . Your appeal is not complete until you have mailed the appropriate appeal form back to SSA. Mail the appeal papers back by certified mail that requests a return receipt for merchandise.

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Your Medical Condition & Limitations:

The ALJ is trying to discern any limitations you have that affect your ability to perform work tasks as well as to carry out activities of daily living.

The judge will ask about your medical condition itself, the date of diagnosis, and how your symptoms affect your ability to work and manage other aspects of your life.

No one is expecting you to answer like a doctor. Take a breath, and answer honestly with what you know, how you feel, what you experience, and what you believe to be correct.

The ALJ will likely ask targeted questions about your symptoms. For example, if you have pain, the judge may ask:

  • Can you tell me about the pain you are experiencing?
  • Where is the pain located?
  • Can you describe what your pain feels like?
  • What brings the pain on? Does it come and go? How long does it last?
  • Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?
  • Are other symptoms associated with this pain, such as swelling, weakness, cramping, or heat?

The ALJ might further ask you

  • How have your symptoms affected your life?
  • How often do you see your doctor?
  • What treatments have you undergone? Have any treatments helped?
  • What medication do you take now? How much does it help and for how long? Are there any side-effects?

Hypothetical Situations And Disability Hearings

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Your attorney will talk with you beforehand to prepare you to testify and to advise you regarding statements to avoid. He or she will tell you that the judge who will hear your case is an administrative law judge. The ALJ makes decisions on hypothetical situations. You should not attempt to present common sense arguments to the court since the situation is hypothetical.

In other words, if you are hypothetically offered a job, can you work? Instead, let your lawyer speak for you. Some cases, especially for a person under the age of 50, are quite complex. Your attorney will list valid reasons as to why you cannot work at a desk job and direct you not to bring up other reasons that might not apply in your case. Some of those reasons that the Social Security Administration will likely reject include the following:

  • I cant find any desk jobs in this area.
  • Ive never worked at a job like that before.
  • I would have to drive too far to go to work.

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Show Up To Your Hearing On Time

It goes without saying that, to successfully argue your appeal, you must actually be there to make your case. Do everything within your power to make it to your hearing on time. While you can sometimes postpone your hearing, if you have a good reason, we advise making it to your hearing on the scheduled date and time.

Postponing your hearing without a good reason could reflect negatively on the seriousness of your disability. Likewise, completely failing to show up for you hearing effectively loses your chance of overturning the SSAs denial of your benefits.

Hiring An Experienced Ssdi Attorney Or Advocate

Working with a trained SSDI professional can significantly improve your chances of winning a disability claim at any level in the process. In fact, statistics show that applicants who work with attorneys or advocated early on are much more likely to achieve an award. And working with a professional at the ALD hearing level can more than double your chances of getting approved.

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Advice For Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Preparing for Your Disability Hearing

Arrive Early

Unless your attorney asks you to be at the hearing office at a specific time, arrive for your Social Security disability hearing about a half an hour early. Any earlier is not necessary no matter what your Notice of Hearing may say about coming early to review your file. Your lawyer has already reviewed your hearing exhibit file. It isnt necessary for you to review it . Social Security disability hearings usually start on time, so whatever you do, dont be late.

What to Wear

A lot of people ask what to wear, whether they should dress up for their Social Security disability hearing.

You do not need to dress up, and you do not need to wear the same clothes that you would wear to a wedding. This is an informal hearing. You may wear whatever makes you comfortable .

Dont Talk About Your Case

Social Security disability hearings are serious business. Dont make jokes. Dont even talk about your case before or after your hearing in the waiting room, in the hallway, in the elevator or anywhere else where a stranger can overhear. A Social Security employee may misinterpret what you say and get the wrong impression about you, and there may be a lot of Social Security employees in the building.

Turn Off Your Cell Phone

If you have a cell phone with you, dont forget to turn it off before the hearing starts.

General Information About the Hearing

The Social Security Hearing Room

The Recording Equipment

The Administrative Law Judge

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