For many Social Security claimants, the hearing process is the most intimidating portion of their entire claim. My clients tend to have the most questions before the hearing, understandably so I think. The majority of claimants who win their claims do so at the hearing level. The importance of this fact cannot be stressed enough. Do not be discouraged by denials at the lower level. They are by no means out of the norm and the hearing represents a new day and new opportunity for the disability claimant.
Your right to an Attorney
Every Social Security claimant has the right to have an attorney for their disability hearing. If you come to your hearing without an attorney most judges will ask if you would like a continuance in order to hire an attorney. These continuances are freely given. A Social Security Attorney will be able to procure all medical evidence ahead of the hearing. Most attorneys will draft a pre hearing brief and submit it to the judge ahead of your hearing date. A typical disability pre-hearing brief will summarize the medical record and lay out a legal argument to the judge explaining the attorneys theory of the case. If you do not plant on hiring an attorney for your hearing, I strongly recommend at least consulting an experienced disability attorney before your hearing date.
The Meat of the Hearing
A Social Security Disability hearing is an informal legal process that takes place in a Social Security hearing room as opposed to a traditional court room. Testimony is taken under oath meaning the penalty of perjury does apply. The judge will start by swearing in the witnesses. The claimant is a witness on his or her own behalf. A vocational expert, called by the judge to testify on work in the national economy will also be sworn in. In most cases the claimant will be the first to testify and the judge will elect to start the questioning themselves. Most judges will kick things off by asking about the claimant's work history and their current levels of daily functioning. From there the judge will move into the medical evidence of record. The claimant may be asked to further elaborate on their conditions, focusing primarily on how those impairments inhibit work activity.
After the judge's questioning is over, the judge will give your attorney representative the opportunity to cross examine you. Most attorneys will use their questioning to fill in any gaps they see in the judge's questioning to ensure the record is filled out to its fullest possible extent. Occasionally further elaborating on an issue that came up in the judges questioning is necessary. Your attorney will be responsive to what the judge focused on in their line of questioning.
The last person to testify will be the vocational expert. The judge will pose hypothetical questions to the vocation expert asking what work someone with the same restrictions, education, age and work experience as the claimant may or may not be able to perform. All vocational testimony must be consistent with the dictionary of occupational titles, the SCO (selected characteristics of occupations) or any other companion publications. Your attorney representative will have the opportunity to propose questions to the vocational expert after the judge has completed their hypothetical questions.
Once the Vocation Expert has completed their testimony the judge will close the record and end the hearing. From that point, the judge will render a written decision with a full evaluation of all evidence and testimony taken at the hearing. A claimant does not know the outcome of their case at the end of the hearing. The judge's decision must be supported by substantial evidence. There are appeal rights after an unfavorable decision.
If you have any questions concerning the Social Security Disability hearing process or would like to discuss representation at a hearing please submit a form below or simply call for a consultation.