How to Win a Social Security Disability Hearing
Navigating the Social Security Disability application process can be frustrating, especially if your claim has been denied. If you are at the point of appealing your denial by seeking a hearing before an administrative law judge, there’s a lot you need to know. To have a good chance at winning your appeal hearing, you need to prepare a strong case that addresses the reasons why your application was denied. You also need to understand the hearing process itself. An experienced Pasco County SSD attorney can help you prepare your appeal and present a clear and convincing case to the judge.
At the Disability Law Firm, we understand how stressful a Social Security Disability hearing can be. With more than 20 years of experience, our team has helped countless clients win their SSD appeals and get the benefits they need. Contact us today for a free case evaluation to learn more about what you can do to improve your chances of winning your appeal.
What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?
To avoid feeling anxious or nervous when going into an SSD hearing, it helps to know what to expect. Social Security Disability hearings are usually held in person, but they can be done over the phone or via teleconference. They last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and they are less formal than a typical court hearing.
At the hearing, you can expect to see the judge, a vocational expert, and your attorney, if you have one. In rare cases, the judge may ask a medical expert to attend. You can bring your own witnesses, but you should discuss this with your attorney as it is not always beneficial. Once everyone is in attendance, the judge will ask the hearing monitor to “go on the record.” The hearing monitor will start an audio recording of the hearing, which will be available later to review if needed.
The judge may start by spending a few minutes discussing the issues with you or your attorney. Then the judge will swear you and any other witnesses in. Some judges may ask for an opening statement from your attorney.
After that, the judge or your attorney will ask you questions. Sometimes the judge will be the main one asking the questions, sometimes it will be your attorney, or it could be a combination of both. No matter the circumstances, the questions will be very similar. You will typically be asked about the work you have done, what conditions prevent you from working, and how your conditions affect you in general. You may be asked about your ability to sit, stand, walk, concentrate, finish tasks, and interact with people.
Once you are done answering questions, a vocational expert will testify. This expert will testify about jobs someone with your limitation could or could not perform. Because this testimony is very technical and important, you need a highly experienced attorney representing you. Your attorney will be able to understand the testimony and cross examine the expert if needed.
After the vocational expert testifies, the judge may ask for a closing statement and if you have any more comments. The hearing will then conclude, and you will typically wait one to three months to get the order from the judge. In some cases, the judge may request additional medical exams or information. If this happens, it could take longer to get a decision.
Questions to Expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing
At an SSD appeal hearing, you may expect the administrative law judge to ask you questions about your work history and your disability.
Depending on the specific nature of your disability, you should expect to answer questions such as:
- What formal education or vocational training do you have?
- What previous employment have you held and what duties or responsibilities did those jobs have?
- Are you presently working, or have you tried going back to work since suffering your disability?
- What diagnosis or prognosis have you been given by your treating medical providers?
- What treatments have you undergone? Have your providers recommended treatments that you have not yet undergone, and why?
- Do you experience any side effects of your treatment?
- How does your disability affect your ability to perform personal care or daily tasks of living?
- How much weight can you lift or move?
- How long can you sit, stand, or walk without needing a break?
- How often do you need breaks from work?
- Do you have any other physical limitations, such as restrictions on your range of motion?
- Do you have problems concentrating or remembering things?
- Do you have difficulties following instructions or with problem solving?
- Do you have issues interacting with co-workers or customers?
When you choose the Disability Law Firm to represent you at an SSD hearing, our team will make sure you are thoroughly prepared to answer any questions the judge may ask. We work to make you feel comfortable and confident going into the hearing.
How to Answer Questions at a Social Security Disability Hearing
Depending on the documentary record, the administrative law judge may only have a few questions for you, or the judge may have many questions. Because SSD appeal hearings normally last no longer than about an hour, you should know how to answer any questions the administrative law judge asks you. Excellent preparation on your part will keep the hearing moving along and help put your case in the best light possible.
Most importantly, you should listen carefully to the administrative law judge’s question to understand specifically what information the judge is asking from you. If you do not understand the question or had trouble hearing, you can always ask the administrative law judge to repeat or clarify the question.
Ideally, you should keep your answer limited to a sentence or two. It can seem easy to give a long-winded answer, especially if you are trying to give the administrative law judge the full picture of your situation. However, by rambling on, you risk losing the administrative law judge’s attention during your answer or forcing the judge to interrupt you or cut your answer off. The administrative law judge may also find a long-winded answer less credible than a direct and succinct answer.
If you are asked about your medical condition, try to give specific examples of your symptoms or physical/cognitive limitations. When describing pain that you experience, try to use descriptors like “aching” or “stinging” or “burning” to clarify. When answering questions about your physical limitations or how long you can perform a task before needing a break, give specific estimates of time (e.g., “25 minutes”), distance (e.g., “one mile”), or weight (e.g., “10 pounds”).
There may be parts of your record that might not help your case. You should also be prepared to explain any harmful facts, such as explaining why you have a gap of time in your medical treatment, or whether you may have become over-reliant or dependent on pain medication.
Tips for Winning Your Disability Case
After your initial SSD benefits application is denied, you should keep in mind the following tips to help give you the best chance of ultimately winning your disability benefits claim:
- Be timely in your request for an appeal hearing after receiving notice of the denial of your claim. You must formally request an appeal hearing by filing the specific SSA form within 60 days of the date of the rejection decision.
- Review the explanation of determination. This will tell you the reasons your benefits application was denied. If you find that the SSA’s determination was based on inaccurate or incomplete facts, the appeal hearing will give you the chance to correct or supplement the record.
- See your doctor for a full examination, and get a report from your doctor detailing the extent and nature of your disability. A thorough medical report backed by objective evidence and results from recent exams and tests may ultimately prove persuasive to the administrative law judge.
- Never fabricate or exaggerate any details about your condition or impairments. Nor should you downplay any details about disabilities or medical conditions that you feel embarrassed about. Administrative law judges deal with cases involving every imaginable medical condition, so you have no reason to feel embarrassed. However, trying to add a little extra to your claims in the hopes of winning your appeal will usually have the opposite effect. If the administrative law judge determines that you are exaggerating any detail, it may impact the credibility of your entire claim.
How a Lawyer Can Significantly Improve Your Chances of Winning
Let a Pasco County SSD attorney help take the pressure off you and guide you through the appeals process by:
- Reviewing the explanation of determination from the denial of your initial application or request for reconsideration to determine the reasons your application was rejected and what information or evidence may be needed for your SSD appeal hearing
- Advising you of what to expect throughout the SSD appeal hearing process so that you feel prepared rather than nervous or anxious
- Collecting additional evidence to help bolster your case
- Preparing you for the questions you should expect to answer at the hearing, so that you can give direct, informative answers that will assist the administrative law judge
- Representing you at the appeal hearing, posing questions to witnesses at the hearing where appropriate
- Explaining your legal rights and options if you receive an adverse decision from the administrative law judge, including filing an appeal with the SSA Appeals Council
If you are appealing the denial of your SSD benefits application following an initial review and reconsideration, contact the Disability Law Firm today for a free, no-obligation consultation. An experienced Dade City SSD lawyer from our firm can help you navigate this complex process and pursue the full disability benefits you need.