What to Expect at a Social Security Disability Hearing
Disability appeal may mean a hearing before a judge is the next step
Belleville, Ill. – April 22, 2011 – Many applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits wait several years for an in-person hearing before an administrative law judge. Now that the hearing date is finally upon them, what should they expect? Allsup, which has successfully represented more than 150,000 people for their SSDI benefits, offers the following information and advice.
SSDI is a federally mandated disability insurance program that taxpayers and their employers fund through payroll taxes. Social Security disability benefits provide monthly income to those who have experienced a severe disability and can no longer work for 12 months or longer, or who have a terminal condition. Claimants’ whose SSDI applications are denied can pursue a disability appeal and, eventually, reach the hearing level. This is when a hearing before an administrative law judge is required in order to decide the claim for Social Security benefits.
How should I dress? The first rule, says Edward Swierczek, an Allsup senior claims representative with more than 37 years SSDI experience, is to just be yourself. “There’s no need to wear a business suit to the hearing,” he said. “Don’t try to be too spiffy. Wearing nice casual clothes is always appropriate, but don’t overdo the casual look by wearing shorts or a halter top because that’s just not appropriate in a court of law.”
What happens in the hearing room? Besides the claimant and his representative, if he has one, people attending the hearing will include the administrative law judge (ALJ), an assistant who records the proceedings, and usually a vocational or medical expert, or both. A claimant may bring a friend or family member to testify on his or her behalf. But their testimony will have, in most instances, minimal impact, Swierczek said, because most ALJs will consider their testimony somewhat prejudiced in favor of the claimant. However, the testimony will certainly be considered.
The proceedings begin when the judge swears in the claimant and asks general questions for the record. These may include establishing the claimant’s name, date of birth and Social Security number. The ALJ also may ask the claimant for his height, weight and living arrangements.
Often, the ALJ will ask direct questions about how a disability affects the claimant’s daily life. A typical question is, “Can you go shopping?” According to Swierczek, this is where a representative may interject with questions of his own to help clarify the claimant’s physical limitations. “Although the claimant may reply, ‘Yes, I can shop,’ this may not be the complete answer,” Swierczek pointed out. “Because I know the complete details of the claimant’s situation, I may ask my own questions to ensure the ALJ has all the information he needs to make an informed decision.
“For example, although the claimant can indeed go shopping, my questions may reveal that because his disability prevents him from driving to the grocery store, he has to rely on a neighbor for a ride to the store. Then, after he’s in the store, he has to ride a motorized scooter up and down the aisles and get help from a store employee to reach items on the top shelf.”
What happens next? After questioning the claimant, the ALJ may question the vocational expert if there are any jobs in the national economy the claimant can perform. A question to a medical expert may be an inquiry if the claimant is physically or mentally able to perform that type of work.
Although there are exceptions, as a rule, hearings usually last about an hour or less. Three things can happen at the conclusion of an SSDI hearing:
The ALJ will close the record and the claimant will receive a written decision, which may take up to six months. This is the most common method of receiving the ALJ’s decision.
The ALJ will make a bench decision, announcing at the hearing that he is awarding SSDI benefits.
The judge may indicate that he’s awarding benefits, but that the claimant will have to wait for a formal notification.
Swierczek added that although SSDI hearings are often stressful for the claimant, they are not intended to be confrontational.
“Generally, most judges are understanding and patient,” he said. “Their job is to hear all the facts and get all the information they need to make a determination if the claimant is eligible for SSDI benefits. The big thing for claimants to remember is to relax, be themselves, and answer all questions truthfully and completely.”
Individuals who have questions about handling their disability appeal, may contact Allsup’s Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 279-4357 for a free SSDI evaluation.
Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs nearly 800 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit www.Allsup.com