What to Expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing

Researcher & Writer
March 29, 2016

If you have initially been denied Social Security disability benefits and did not get Social Security examiners to change their decision as part of a reconsideration process, then your next step is to appear in front of an administrative law judge for a disability hearing.

As it is with all the other steps of filing a Social Security disability claim, the better prepared you are, the better your chances are of being approved for benefits.

Prior to a hearing, a judge will have a chance to review your files and will be familiar with your case. The hearing he conducts may last as little as 15 minutes or may go as long as an hour, depending on the number of questions the judge asks, and whether or not there is a need for medical experts to testify either on your behalf or as part of the court’s inquiry process.

If you are not familiar with the court system, a hearing can be a daunting exercise, and for this reason, many people choose to hire an attorney to assist them. But even with an attorney on board, the judge may ask the applicant questions directly, minimizing the involvement and impact an attorney may have during the hearing. Each case is different, and each judge is different, so it is impossible to gauge how the actual hearing may proceed.

It’s important to be a good listener at a disability hearing, making sure you understand the exact questions asked of you, and then providing short and succinct answers to the judge. If you’re nervous in this kind of setting it’s best to practice questions and answers with an attorney or with someone you trust to help you.

Judges will focus on your medical records and your work history.

Be specific when describing your symptoms and your medical limitations. The judge will want to know your levels and types of pain, how your condition restricts your ability to function, and exactly what your limits are when it comes to performing certain tasks (i.e. driving, sitting at a computer, lifting objects, etc.). If your medical records are not thorough or complete, expect questions to help the judge fill in the facts so that they get a complete sense of your condition.

In all cases, your answers should be honest, accurate and polite. If you exaggerate or lie, there’s a good chance the judge will know based on years of experience. The other important thing to remember is to not be embarrassed by whatever your condition is. Again, because a judge has heard hundreds of testimonies over the course of his career, he is looking only for facts. Expect a certain level of compassion combined with a need for efficiency in keeping the hearing moving forward.

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