The amount of time between when you apply for a disability hearing and when you actually attend the hearing can be lengthy. The good news is, that gives you more time to prepare. Below are tips on what to expect at your disability hearing and how you can get yourself ready for it; hopefully, they will help you feel calmer and more in control of the process.
As a preliminary matter, the point of the hearing is to allow an administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine whether your disability qualifies you to receive Social Security disability benefits. You should know your case better than anyone else when it comes time to testify at your hearing.
Disability determination hearings are not open to the public, and they are usually held in small conference rooms, so you don’t 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, an assistant who will record the proceedings, and, occasionally, expert witnesses hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to answer questions about your condition.
When you receive the notice that your hearing has been scheduled, review your file and make sure that you are familiar with your most recent medical records. Be prepared to provide your personal information, background, extent of formal education, and information regarding any specialized or vocational training you have completed at the start of the hearing.
The ALJ will ask you questions about your employment history as well as your current employment situation, so you will need to explain how your condition affects your ability to work. Be as specific and concise as possible. Determination hearings are short and usually only last fifteen minutes to an hour, so you need to be as comprehensive as possible without providing wandering answers.
ALJs have seen and heard everything, so try your best not to be too embarrassed when talking about your disability and how it affects your life. Provide a detailed description of your life since you became disabled. If there are things you used to love doing that you cannot do anymore, make sure the ALJ knows. If you feel pain, explain the kind of pain you feel, how long it lasts, and if you can do anything to mitigate it. If you need help performing household or hygiene tasks, say so.
The most important thing you can do is answer the ALJ’s questions honestly. The more an ALJ finds you reliable and credible, the more likely he or she will be to make an accurate determination on whether you qualify for disability benefits. Do not exaggerate your symptoms, but do not downplay them either. If you don’t understand a question you’ve been asked, it is OK to ask for clarification. It’s also a good idea to practice answering questions with your attorney or advocate so that you don’t feel caught off guard when you’re asked at the hearing.
After the hearing is over, it may take up to thirty days or more to be notified of the ALJ’s decision.