The process of applying and receiving benefits for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is similar to the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) process. If you are initially denied SSI benefits, you can appeal Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision. Once your hearing has been scheduled, your file will be sent to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for review. We’ll walk you through what to expect at a disability hearing so you can prepare yourself accordingly!
Before the Hearing
Where will the hearing be held?
You will receive a notice from SSA at least 75 days before your hearing, indicating the date, time, and place of your hearing. The hearing is usually held at a location that is not further than 75 miles from your home. If traveling that distance would be difficult for you, be sure to let SSA know when you submit your request for a hearing or shortly thereafter so they can accommodate you appropriately. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hearings have been conducted over the phone or video call.
Let SSA know if you cannot or will not attend the hearing.
If you schedule a hearing and do not show up, your claim may be dismissed, and you will not receive benefits. Do not cancel a scheduled hearing unless it is absolutely necessary; since hearings are scheduled two and three months in advance, rescheduling your hearing will cause substantial additional delays.
Submit your evidence ahead of time.
It’s important that you provide the SSA with all of the evidence you will present on your behalf at the hearing, well in advance of the hearing date. It’s important that your ALJ has time to review your file in detail. Your attorney can assist you with the paperwork and help you stay on top of precise deadlines that are easy to miss.
How to Prepare for a Disability Hearing
The amount of time between when you apply for a disability hearing and when you attend the hearing can be lengthy, giving you plenty of time to prepare. Here’s what you need to know to get yourself ready for the hearing:
Make sure your medical records are current. When you receive the notice that your hearing has been scheduled, your file should be reviewed to make sure all the medical records are current. The ALJ will have access to all the evidence before the hearing, so it is important to make sure everything is up to date.
Be prepared to provide personal information. At the beginning of your hearing, your ALJ will ask you several questions regarding personal information, background, extent of formal education, and any specialized or vocational training you have completed. You will also be asked about your employment history going back fifteen years, so you should review your work history going back that far.
Get familiar with your testimony. Remember, the point of your hearing is to allow an administrative law judge (ALJ) review your disability case to determine whether you are entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. You should know your case better than anyone else when it comes time to testify at your hearing!
The main focus of the hearing will be to show how your conditions affect your ability to work. You will need to be as specific and concise as possible. Determination hearings are normally scheduled to last between thirty minutes and an hour, so you need to be as comprehensive as possible without providing wandering answers.
ALJs have seen and heard just about everything, so don’t be embarrassed when talking about your disability and how it affects your life. You’ll need to share a detailed description of your life since you became disabled. If there are things you used to love doing that you can no longer do, prepare to share that with the ALJ. If you feel pain, prepare to explain the kind of pain you feel, how long it lasts, and what you do to manage it.
What Happens at a Disability Hearing
Where Will the Hearing Take Place?
Unlike many other court proceedings, an SSD hearing does not take place in a formal courtroom. SSD hearings often take place in courtrooms in office buildings that look more like conference rooms. The traditional features of a courtroom are also not present at an SSD hearing. There is no jury or jury box, and the hearing is not open to the public.
How Long will the Hearing Take?
Most hearings last between 45 minutes and an hour. Your portion of the testimony will likely only take about 30 minutes.
Who Will Be at the Hearing?
Disability determination hearings are not open to the public, and they are usually held in small conference rooms, so you do not have to worry about being intimidated by a large group of people in a courtroom. The hearing will involve you, your attorney/advocate, the ALJ, a court reporter who will record the proceedings, and, occasionally, expert witnesses hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to answer specific questions about aspects of your case. The ALJ will usually appear in person or over a video conference. However, the experts almost always appear by phone.
How Does the Hearing Begin?
At the start of your hearing, you will be placed under oath. Then, you will provide the ALJ with your personal information, your vocational background, employment history, and any education or training you have completed.
What Questions Can I Expect to Be Asked?
After discussing your past employment history with the ALJ, providing the physical requirements of the jobs and your reasoning for leaving, the ALJ will allow your attorney to ask you specific questions about your disability. Some questions you can expect to answer are:
- What is your diagnosis?
- What treatments have you tried?
- Do your treatments have any side effects?
- How does your disability impact your daily activities?
- How does your disability impact your ability to take care of yourself?
- How long can you sit, stand, or walk without needing a break?
- How much can you lift?
- How often do you need to take breaks?
- Do you have any issues getting along with supervisors, co-workers, clients, or customers?
- Do you have any difficulties concentrating or remembering things?
- Are you depressed?
- Do you drink alcohol or use drugs?
Who Will Ask the Questions?
The ALJ will conduct the questioning, however, your attorney may ask more specific questions about your disability. Generally, even if your attorney has questioned you, the ALJ will ask further questions for clarification or additional information.
When Does the Medical or Vocational Expert Testify?
If your hearing involves a medical or vocational expert, they will testify after the ALJ has finished questioning you. The ALJ and your attorney will pose a series of questions (hypotheticals) to the vocational or medical expert to provide the ALJ with an opinion about your ability to work.
When Will I Be Notified of the Decision?
After the hearing is over, it takes an average of thirty to ninety days to be notified of the ALJ’s decision, but there is no specific timeframe or deadline, so it could be shorter or longer. If you have been approved, you will receive a Notice of Award letter telling you if the ALJ’s decision was fully favorable (he/she agrees with your onset date) or partially favorable (he/she has amended your onset date). If you receive a favorable bench decision, that means you have been approved for benefits at the hearing, but you still have to wait for a written decision before your benefits can begin.