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How The Social Security Disability (SSDI) Hearing Process Works

by Layla Bryant

The primary purpose of a Social Security Disability hearing is for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to determine if you are disabled, unable to work, and qualify for social security disability benefits. But having to answer questions asked by strangers about how a medical condition has affected your daily life can be stressful. Therefore, it helps to have some idea in advance what to expect.

Who will be present at the hearing?

In addition to yourself and your attorney, an Administrative Law Judge, a hearing reporter, and any witnesses you bring to speak on your behalf will be present at the hearing. Often, there is a vocational expert and sometimes a medical expert present as well. The hearing notice you receive will tell you if either or both of these experts will be present.

Your attorney is there to present your case and question any witnesses, including the vocational and medical experts who may be present to give their expert opinions on issues relating to your SSDI claim. The hearing reporter is there to audio record the hearing. The Administrative Law Judge is the person who makes the final decision on your claim after reviewing your case file and hearing any additional evidence.

How does the hearing proceed?

  1. The Administrative Law Judge gives a brief introduction of the case before admitting the case file into evidence.

  2. The Judge will then begin asking you questions or ask your attorney to question you. You will be asked to answer questions relating to your level of education, past employment experience, and what now prevents you from being able to work. You should answer the question about why you can't work by describing how the symptoms and limitations caused by your medical condition(s) negatively impact your daily life.

  3. The next step in the hearing will be for you to answer questions about medical treatments you are currently receiving, tests and procedures, hospitalizations, and the medications you are taking as well as their side effects.

  4. Along with questions relating to the physical limitations your medical condition causes, your lawyer or the judge will ask you if your condition causes mental limitations, such as problems with your memory and concentration. Asking you how you get along with other people is another question you may be asked.

  5. If a vocational expert is at your hearing, he or she may give testimony about the kinds of jobs you may be able to do based on the medical evidence in your file and the limitations your medical condition imposes. Your attorney can then question the vocational expert and point out limitations supported by the medical evidence in your file as to why you cannot perform the specific jobs the vocational expert recommends. The attorney acting as your representative also has the right to cross examine the medical expert testifying at your hearing. The judge may ask the medical expert for his or her opinion as to whether you meet the criteria for one or more of the medical conditions you listed on your claim in addition to what your functional limitations may be.

  6. Once you have answered questions, your attorney will give a closing statement or provide a brief summarizing the key points of your case. Before excusing you, the Administrative Law Judge may ask you if you have anything more you want to add.

What happens after the hearing?

Once the Administrative Law Judge issues his or her decision and your disability claim is approved, a Social Security representative at the district office will check your eligibility again. If you haven't been involved in gainful employment since you filed your claim, you will receive a Notice of Award letter. The letter will include details about the amount of the benefits you will receive and when they will begin.

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