Nervous about your Disability Hearing? Find out what to expect.
What to Expect at your Social Security Disability Hearing – FAQs.
Most claimants are nervous about their upcoming disability hearings. This is understandable, as it may seem that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) holds your future in the palm of his or her hand!
Hopefully these answers to questions frequently asked by our clients and other SSD claimants, will reassure you before you attend your own hearing.
Question: How should I dress for the Social Security hearing?
Answer: The good news is that these hearings are relatively informal. You do not need to dress up as you might for other court proceedings. Although, a suit or dress is always a respectful choice, it is more important to wear clothes that are comfortable.
As a rule of thumb, it is usually best avoid clothes that are: revealing, ripped, stained, or advertise alcohol or other intoxicating or illegal substances. You will be speaking to the judge, after all.
Question: Do I have to testify?
Answer: Yes. However, this is not the kind of testimony that you may have seen on TV or in movies. You will simply be giving answers to any questions asked by the judge or your attorney.
Question: Will I be cross-examined? Will the other lawyer try to make me look like a liar?
Answer: No. No. No. Social Security Disability and SSI Hearings are non-adversarial. This means that there is no attorney “on the other side” who will be asking you tough questions, trying to trip you up, and trying to ruin your credibility. Your attorney will be the only attorney in the room, and he or she certainly does not want to discredit you.
Question: Who will be asking me questions? The judge or my lawyer?
Answer: Well, this depends on the judge in your case. Some judges like to do all of the questioning, while others prefer to have the attorney handle the questioning. There are even some judges who alternate asking questions with the attorney. Ask your disability attorney about the specific judge that has been assigned to your case, if you would like to know more about he or she conducts hearings.
Question: What kinds of questions will I have to answer?
Answer: This is a good question, and one that we hear frequently. The questions asked at your hearing will depend upon your specific situation and disability. However, there are general questions that are asked of all disability claimants during ALJ hearings.
You will probably be asked some variation of the following:
- What is your name? How old are you?
- What is the highest grade completed in school?
- Where do you live? How do you live with?
- What are some of the places that you have worked? What were your duties, at these jobs? Why can’t you do these jobs now?
- What is your average day like, from morning until night?
- What do you do for fun, or for a hobby? Do you visit with friends?
- Do you have a driver’s license? Are you able to drive?
- Who prepares meals and does the household chores where you live?
- What doctors do you see? What medications do you take?
- What are your symptoms? How do they keep you from working?
These are all questions that you should be able to answer without too much advanced preparation. You will be asked additional questions about your particular disability and symptoms, as well.
Question: Will my disability lawyer give me a list of questions that he or she is going to ask prior to the hearing?
Answer: Probably not. Every lawyer is different and every case is different. However, disability lawyers generally do not want their clients to be “over prepared.” If you know exactly what questions will be asked, you cannot help but think about and practice your answers. When answers sound rehearsed, the claimant loses credibility.
Do not worry! You will be ready. Most lawyers will not ask a question unless they already know the answer. This means that they have already asked you the questions, or you have already given them the information in some other form. In our office, we send out an “Activities Questionnaire” to complete prior to the hearing. Answering this questionnaire helps the client think through issues and questions that will likely come up at the hearing. Clients (and attorney) already know the answers, without sounding rehearsed.
And, remember: If you don’t know an answer – that is okay! It is absolutely fine to answer with “I’m not sure” or “I don’t remember.”
If you’re concerned about this, please talk to your lawyer about it.
Question: How long will my hearing last?
Answer: This length of a hearing varies depending upon the judge, your specific situation, and your region. Here in the central Arkansas area, hearings tend to last about 45 minutes. Every case is different.
Question: What if I cannot sit still for the entire hearing? Is it okay for me to get up and move around?
Answer: Yes. Many claimants cannot sit for 45 minutes. This is one of the reasons why they cannot work. If you need to get up and move or change positions, just let your lawyer know. Most judges are accommodating because they realize that many claimants struggle with pain and cannot sit still. Clients often change positions, get up, walk around, and even pace. It is not a problem. Just let your lawyer know.
Question: What do I need to bring to my hearing?
Answer: In most cases, all you need to bring is your photo ID. If you have any new medical records that your lawyer does not have, be sure to bring them and give them to your lawyer before the hearing.
Your attorney should have everything else that you will need for your hearing. If you do not have an attorney, then you may want to get to the hearing office early so you can review your records before the hearing.
Question: Do I really need an attorney for my disability hearing? Why should I bother hiring one at this point?
Answer: You are certainly not required to have an attorney present at your hearing, and some claimants are successful without any attorney help.
However, having an experienced Social Security disability attorney with you at the hearing is likely to increase your chance of winning, for the following reasons:
- An experienced attorney will know what needs to be proven in your particular case, so the judge can award you benefits. He or she will have a list of topics/questions that need to be covered during the hearing, and will be prepared to cross-examine the vocational expert, if necessary.
- Many disability attorneys submit a pre-hearing brief to the judge, so the ALJ is already familiar with your claim, your disabilities, your past work history, and your medical evidence before you ever get to the hearing office. This makes the hearing and decision process quicker and easier on everyone.
- Most claimants are extremely nervous about hearings (and understandably so!). It is reassuring to know that someone is on their side and fighting for their interests. Your lawyer can help make sure that all of the important facts are covered even if you suddenly find yourself feeling nervous or forgetful, or you cannot seem to get the words out.
Question: Will my disability hearing be held in a courtroom?
Answer: Probably not. Your hearing will likely be held in a conference-type room, not a courtroom. Disability hearings are designed to be more comfortable and less intimating that the types of hearings that take place in a courtroom.
Question: Who will be present during my hearing?
Answer: A typical disability hearing includes the administrative law judge (ALJ), the hearing assistant, a vocational expert, your attorney, and yourself. You may also bring any witnesses, and sometimes the judge will request help from a medical expert. The judge will identify every person in the room, so you will know why each of them is present. These hearings are not open to the public.
Question: Will I have to sit on the witness stand? Will I have to testify under oath?
Answer: This is a great question. You WILL NOT be sitting on a witness stand, up in front of the room. You will most likely be sitting at a conference-type table, with your attorney. You WILL have to take an oath at the beginning of the hearing, promising that you will tell the truth. Any witnesses or experts will have to take the same oath.
Hopefully, this FAQ has answered your questions and helped to prepare you for your upcoming Social Security Disability or SSI hearing.
Originally Published: July 16, 2016
Last updated: May 21, 2018 at 7:32 am
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