What Happens At The Social Security Disability Hearing?

So you've applied for either Social Security Disability benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income and you've been denied at the Initial application, and possibly a second time at Reconsideration (if your state has this stage of the process). You've requested a hearing (likely about a year ago) and now you've been scheduled for a Social Security hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.

Here are a few things to prepare you for what to expect at your hearing:
  • If you do not already have an experienced Social Security disability attorney, it's time to strongly consider getting one. If you have an experienced representative, they should be able to answer all of your questions; from what to wear to the hearing, to what type of questions to expect from the judge. Not to mention, they will hopefully present your case in an organized manner that shows the judge that you meet the Social Security definition of disability.
  • Unlike most other legal proceedings, Social Security's new rules prohibit claimants from knowing who the Administrative Law Judge is ahead of the hearing.
  • Social Security hearings are pretty informal, nothing like you're accustomed to seeing on Court TV or the news. Typically, the only people in the hearing room are the judge, a reporter who types what is being said, the claimant and if you are represented, your representative. It's also common for the Administrative Law Judge to request that a vocational expert and/or a medical expert testify at the hearing.
  • In my experience, most hearings last about 45 minutes to an hour. I've had hearings that have lasted much less and hearings that have lasted much longer. But, in general, if you are represented by an experienced representative or Social Security attorney, you should expect your hearing to last close to an hour. From my experience of sitting in Social Security waiting rooms, hearings where the claimant is unrepresented rarely last longer than 30 minutes.
  • The Administrative Law Judge rarely issues a decision the day of the hearing. This doesn't mean it never happens, but it's not common practice. So, don't go to the hearing expecting to have a final answer to whether or not your application for disability is being approved or denied. If you do not receive a bench decision (a decision the day of the hearing), you will have to wait to receive your written decision in the mail. The time frame to receive a decision varies by judge, some judges get their decisions sent out within a few weeks and unfortunately I've had judges that take up to three months to issue their decision.
  • The main purpose of the hearing is for the claimant to testify. The majority of the time spent in the hearing room is spent with the judge asking the claimant questions and if you are represented by someone, having your representative ask you questions to inform the judge of important details.

  • If you've been scheduled for a hearing, then read this article about common Social Security disability mistakes that are easily fixed.
If you are scheduled for a hearing then you likely have already waited at least eighteen months since the day you first applied for disability benefits. That's why I will repeat my suggestion that if you do not already have an experienced Social Security disability attorney, it's time to strongly consider getting one.

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