How Should I Prepare For My Social Security Disability Hearing
One of the main reasons to hire a Social Security disability attorney is so that your attorney can prepare your case for you. You really shouldnt have to worry about this part of the process. That being said, we will need your help putting together the list of doctors you treated with. We will get your medical records for you, but we dont know who you treated with unless you tell us.
We will also need a medical source statement in most cases. This is a form your doctor completes that explains to the judge your functional limitations. A letter saying you are disabled is not enough. A judge is not bound by your doctors opinion on disability. In some cases, however, a judge may be bound by a doctors opinion regarding functional limitations. Functional limitations are things like your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, reach, handle, finger, etc.
Evidence is generally due five business days prior to the hearing. This deadline is very important.
Questions You Should Expect To Be Asked During A Social Security Disability Hearing
You never wanted to go to a hearing, but now that your Social Security disability application has been denied you are going to have to go to a hearing in order to get the benefits you deserve. You may be anxious about the process and curious about what you should expect. You deserve to know as much as possible before you get into the hearing room so that you are comfortable and able to fully participate in the proceedings. Below are two ways you can learn about the hearing process so that you can prepare for the big day.
Make Sure You Speak With A Legal Professional
Social Security Disability benefits hearings can indeed be an anxious experience when you just dont know whats going to happen or what will be expected of you. Speaking with a legal representative can help you to feel totally prepared and confident when you walk into the hearing room. Knowing and understanding the type of information to be provided will help give the judge a fuller picture of you as an individual, and having a representative by your side at a hearing may better insure that you provide all the right information to the judge.
At Bluestein Attorneys, Social Security Disability is one of our passions and we work hard to ensure that your individual rights are represented and protected. Whether its Social Security or VA Disability benefits, Workers Compensation issues, Personal Injury, Automobile Accidents, or any other legal issue you may need advice on, we are here to help. To schedule your FREE consultation, click the banner below or give us a call at 779-7599 today!
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What Happens At The Social Security Disability Hearing
Every judge is different so while the basic outline of a hearing is the same, each judge has his or her own process. Its important to discuss the specifics about your judge with your attorney.
In most cases, the judge and your attorney will address some administrative issues first:
- Is the record complete?
- Do you object to any exhibits?
- Do you waive a reading of the issues?
Then your attorney would ordinarily make an opening statement. This is where your attorney explains to the judge the specific provisions in the law that make you disabled.
From there, the ALJ will ordinarily ask you questions. Your attorney may ask you some follow up questions. We cover the contents of your testimony below.
There may be expert witnesses at your hearing. There may be a vocational expert who answers questions about jobs in the economy. There may be a medical expert who answers questions about your medical conditions. Every case is different. If there is an expert witness in your case, your attorney should be prepared to cross examine that expert.
After all the testimony is complete, the judge may ask for a closing argument. This is where your attorney applies the testimony of the witnesses to the provisions in the law which would render you disabled.
Be Direct And Concise
The best piece of advice for a person set to testify in front of a judge is this only answer the question that the judge has asked, and do not volunteer any additional information. Why is this important? It establishes your credibility, plus it makes the judges job easier. The fastest way to derail a hearing is to offer long, narrative answers to yes or no questions. Consider the job of a disability judge. In order to do their job, a judge has to take in a tremendous amount of information in a short period of time. At every hearing, the judge will have a disability claimants electronic file in front of them on their computer monitor. This file contains every piece of medical evidence from the time a claimants disability began. The file also contains detailed work histories, earnings records, sworn statements from the claimant and third parties, detailed questionnaires, opinion evidence from treating doctors and Social Security consultative examiners. Often, a file contains thousands of pages of evidence. The faster the judge can get through the background, the faster youll get your chance to explain the important details of your situation. Judges are human beings like the rest of us, except they hold more power than the average citizen and every day they make decisions that have a huge impact on peoples lives. You want the judge to be happy and you want to leave a good impression by providing direct answers without forcing the judge to redirect you.
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When Will I Find Out Whether The Judge Approved Or Denied My Case
Judges typically do not tell claimants whether the case is approved or denied on the day of the hearing. Your decision will arrive via mail roughly one to two months after the hearing. There are limited circumstances in which the date of a disability hearing can be sped up. However, wait times are fortunately dropping due to Covid-19 for claimants willing to testify via telephone call our office today to discuss whether these limited exceptions apply to your case and to discuss the option of agreeing to a telephone hearing.
Do Not Be Embarrassed
At the Social Security hearing, the ALJ and the vocational expert will ask extremely personal questions, as inquiries about a persons health often are. This can be uncomfortable for many people. However, both the ALJ and the vocational expert listen to hundreds of claimants every year outline every type of illness, injury, and disability. They are simply trying to understand what the claimant is going through, so it is important not to get embarrassed by their questions.
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How Long Will The Hearing Last
The answer depends on the judge. Some judges hold short 15-minute hearings. Other judges hold hearings for over 1 hour depending on the complexity of the case. On the day of the hearing be prepared to prepare with your attorney an hour before the hearing and expect that the hearing will last up to an hour. We will be able to give you a better estimate once the judge is assigned to your case.
Avoid Getting Tricked By Being Prepared
As you can see, most of the questions are pretty straightforward. However, some of the questions could cause problems if the applicant isnt prepared with an answer. When answering an ALJs questions, we recommend to our clients that they:
- Stay on subject and dont ramble.
- Be honest.
- Be prepared to explain any discrepancies that may be in their record.
- Dont be embarrassed or offended by the judges questions.
- Be specific about their symptoms, treatment and limitations.
- Remember that the judge probably knows the answers to his questions before he asks them.
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Where Will My Social Security Disability Hearing Take Place
The easiest way to find out is to ask us. We can generally tell you what office you will be assigned to based on your home address. Keep in mind that some hearing offices have satellite hearing locations. Thus, finding out your assigned hearing office doesnt mean that youll have your hearing at the main office.
If youd like to find out your assigned hearing office, there is a two step process. First you need to determine your local Social Security office. You can find that out here. Once you figure out your local office, you can use that to find your assigned hearing office here.
But as I said, you can just ask us.
Giving The Judge Vague Answers
At the hearing, the ALJ is likely to inquire as to the frequency, intensity, and duration of your symptoms. Vague answers to these questions are a pet peeve of many ALJs. If, for example, you suffer from migraine headaches, don’t say, “I get a lot of migraines, and they hurt really badly.” Instead, try to quantify your symptoms to the extent possible: “I get a migraine headache about four to five days a week, and they usually last from four to as much as twelve hours.” Try to describe your pain in detail with descriptive words like “burning,” “shooting,” “aching,” or “throbbing,” rather than simply stating that something hurts.
Also, be sure to use examples from your daily life that illustrate your functional limitations. Think back to specific instances where your medical issues have caused you problems. Did you miss the most recent Thanksgiving with your family because of depression or anxiety? Have you dropped dishes and broken them due to arthritis in your hands? Are you unable to pick up your young child because of back pain? The ALJ is much more likely to be persuaded with specific answers and concrete examples than vague assertions.
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What Happens At A Social Security Disability Hearing
I like to make sure that my clients understand that the hearing is closed to the public.
This is not like a regular courtroom where anybody can listen in to the proceedings.
The hearing is a private matter and the only people in the hearing room are the participants, and possibly a witness .
The one overarching theme that is important to remember is this ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH!
Remember, the ALJ likely hears hundreds of cases per year and has seen and heard it all.
They can spot exaggerations and lies very easily. If they catch you doing this, you will lose all credibility and likely lose your chance at disability benefits.
Often, the ALJ starts, and then your attorney follows up, but it could work in the opposite direction.
Describe Your Average Day
What do you do all day? MANY people with disabilities answer nothing. But, this is usually not a sufficient answer. It is impossible to do nothing all day.
Do you sleep all day? Do you stare at a wall? Do you count ceiling tiles? Do you spend hours sitting, standing, laying down, and continually shifting positions to try and alleviate pain or pressure?
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What Not To Say At A Social Security Disability Hearing
Although Social Security Disability hearings are less formal than traditional courtroom trials, they nevertheless cause many people to feel anxious or stressed. These feelings are understandable. The average wait time for an administrative hearing in Chicago is 14.9 months, so youve no doubt waited a long time for a hearing date. Not to mention, a lot is riding on the administrative law judges decision.
Yet while the feelings are normal, they are mostly unnecessary 62% of SSD applications are approved following an administrative hearing. So, chances are more than good that your application will be approved and you will finally get the benefit you deserve.
There are, however, things you can say at an SSD hearing that can put you among the 38% of people whose applications are denied. This doesnt mean you should lie when questioned by the ALJ or the attorneys rather, pay close attention to the question, dont offer more information than what is asked of you, and be careful how you phrase your answers to avoid making it seem like your disability is minimal.
With that being said, here is what not to say at your SSD hearing .
Will I Have To Pay Taxes On The Social Security Disability Benefits I Receive
Probably not, but this depends on the amount of your total income. Most people wont have to pay taxes on their Social Security disability benefits. Couples whose combined incomes exceed $32,000 and individuals with income exceeding $25,000 will pay income tax on a portion of their Social Security disability benefits. The IRS has an odd way of figuring out total income for this rule. The IRS uses adjusted gross income as reported on Form 1040, plus one-half of the total Social Security benefits received for the year, plus non-taxable interest.
Single people with incomes over $34,000 and married people with incomes over $44,000 pay tax on a higher percentage of their Social Security disability benefits.
Heres an odd thing: People whose Social Security benefits are reduced because of the workers compensation offset or offsets for other public disability benefits must count the amount of Social Security benefits not paid when determining taxability of their benefits. But if a child receives benefits on a parents account, those benefits count only for determining if the child must pay taxes on Social Security benefits received.
Tax law is very complex. Please talk to a tax specialist if you have any questions about taxes on your Social Security benefits.
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What If The Judge Sends Me A Form To Be Completed By My Doctor
Sometimes a claimant may be sent a form to be completed by a doctor concerning how much work the claimant can do. If the judge sends you a form to be completed by your doctor, telephone your lawyer so that the two of you can discuss how to deal with this. Your lawyer may want you to send the form to him.
Our Disability Attorney In Nj Describe Judges At Your Social Security Disability Hearing
If youre working with a disability attorney in NJ, your application for Social Security disability will be reviewed by an administrative law judge who represents the Social Security Administration . The ALJ works as a neutral researcher whose job is to inquire about your disability and grant benefits if youre disabled according to the Social Security Act.
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What Happens If I Lose My Disability Case At The Hearing
You do have the right to appeal the decision. If you lose, you have 60 days after receiving the unfavorable decision to file a Request for Review with the Appeals Council.
Even if we think were going to win your case, we also have to preserve issues for appeal. Were always thinking two steps ahead. Its like playing chess. Sure, we want to win the hearing. But if we dont, I want to make sure we can win at the Appeals Council or in Federal District Court.
Its not over until its over.
Not only that, sometimes, we can re-apply for benefits. We dont always recommend this because you may be losing out on some benefits. We would discuss with you whether we should appeal, re-apply, or both. Every case is different and you shouldnt make this decision without an attorney.
When Do I Find Out If I’m Approved For Benefits
Usually, you will not receive a decision at the hearing. More typically, your decision will be in writing and will take from 30 to 60 days from the date of your hearing to receive. The length of time you have to wait for a decision can vary greatly from one judge to another.
A copy of the decision will be mailed to you.
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What Does The Medical Expert Or Vocational Expert Do
The medical expert is there to give the judge an expert opinion as to your medical conditions. The ME usually lists the claimants impairments which he/she considers medically determinable and severe and then gives an opinion as to whether the claimants condition meets or equals a medical listing. The vocational expert is there to testify about jobs. Usually the VE will classify all your past work and then answer hypothetical questions from the ALJ regarding whether someone with certain limitations can perform your past work and/or other available jobs.
Your attorney should be able to ask the experts any needed questions. Usually you dont communicate directly with the experts and they usually dont testify until the very end of the hearing. I usually tell my clients that by that point in the hearing they can just relax and zone out for a while while the judge, myself and the expert talk.
What Questions Are Asked At A Disability Hearing
Preparing for a Social Security Disability Insurance hearing can be daunting. At The Advocator Group we work behind the scenes and with our clients to ensure they are ready to take part in this very important piece of their SSDI journey.
In preparing for your SSDI hearing, it is important to know what will take place and what will be expected of you as the claimant. You should expect to be asked many questions during the hearing as the Administrative Law Judge is looking to develop a full picture of your condition and understand the impact of your impairments on your everyday life. Even though there may be many questions asked, a disability hearing is much more like a roundtable discussion between parties instead of the court room dramas we have come to know from television. You may rest easy knowing the proceeding is closed to the public with only a few parties allowed.
During the hearing, the ALJ will typically begin with questioning you before allowing your attorney to do so. Throughout the questioning, you are given the opportunity to testify directly to all parties, but specially the ALJ, about your disabilities and the challenges they have posed on your day-to-day life.
While there is no definitive list of questions that are asked at a hearing, we have put together a list of questions that claimants should be prepared to answer at their disability hearing.
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