We've appealed a Social Security disability claim twice now and we have to go before the administrative law judge. What should we expect?
you have been denied for disability twice (based on your initial
application and an on-paper reconsideration), the Social Security
Administration (SSA) allows applicants to request a hearing.
Your hearings will be held before an administrative law judge (ALJ)
at an SSA office, usually within 75 miles of your home. Occasionally,
the SSA will conduct a hearing by video to make it more convenient for
you. If the SSA does schedule a video hearing, you have the right to
request that the hearing be conducted in person. Although it will likely
delay your hearing date, an in-person hearing is generally a better
Disability hearings are much less formal than hearings you may have
experienced in a courthouse. Often, the rooms are small and appear more
like conference rooms than hearing rooms. But most ALJs wear robes
similar to what you would see in a courtroom and generally sit in the
front of the room on an elevated platform. You should stand when the ALJ
enters the room and wait until the ALJ has taken his or her seat before
Never wear a hat or chew gum during a proceeding. You don’t need to
wear a dress or suit but you should be dressed appropriately. No shorts,
t-shirts, or short skirts. Children are generally not permitted to
A court reporter and usually a Vocational Expert (VE) will be at your
hearing. At the beginning of the proceedings, the court reporter will
swear in both you and the VE along with anyone else who plans to
testify. If you brought a witness, often the ALJ will ask your witness
to leave the room while the ALJ questions you. It is important to speak
clearly into the microphones that are provided when answering questions.
The ALJ usually begins the hearing with a discussion of your past
jobs. You should describe your duties, whether you managed other
employees, what the physical requirements of the job were, and why you
left the job. The purpose of this is to allow the ALJ to classify your
past work so that he or she can determine if you can do your old job or
if you are qualified for any other work.
Once the ALJ completes the questions with regards to your past
employment, he or she will allow your attorney, if you have hired one,
to ask you specific questions about your disability. Some examples of
questions you can expect to answer at your disability hearing are:
If you have an attorney, your attorney will review the questions with you prior to the hearing.
Generally, even if your attorney has
questioned you, the ALJ will ask further questions for clarification or
to gain additional information he or she thinks is important.
If you have not hired an attorney, the ALJ will conduct the questioning.
It is important that you answer the
questions honestly; if the ALJ believes your answers are not honest or
that you are exaggerating, he or she will take this into consideration
when deciding your claim.
Once the ALJ has finished questioning
you, the ALJ and your attorney will pose a series of questions (called
hypotheticals) to the vocational expert (VE). The role of the VE is to provide the ALJ with
an opinion as to what jobs you are able to perform despite your
The ALJ will ask the VE whether he or
she thinks you can do your past work based on the testimony you have
given about your condition. If the VE says you cannot do
your old job, the ALJ will ask more questions about how your documented
limitations affect your ability to work. Once the ALJ has finished questioning the VE, your attorney will have a chance to ask the VE follow-up questions if necessary. For more information, see our article on the testimony of the VE at a disability hearing.
At the end of the hearing, the ALJ will
ask if you would like to add anything. Although it isn’t required, it
may be helpful to explain in your own words why you don’t think you can
work. However, the ALJ will not hold it against you if you choose not to
It is important that you provide the SSA with all of the
evidence you will present on your behalf at the hearing, well in advance
of your hearing date. This will give the ALJ time to review your file.
You may present new evidence at the hearing, but ALJs generally do not
like this. In addition to medical evidence, you should provide the SSA
with a detailed description of the jobs you have held in the past. This
will assist the judge in making a fair decision in your case. If you
plan on bringing a witness to testify on your behalf, you should notify
the ALJ in writing.
If you've got a social security hearing coming up, you may want to consider talking to a disability lawyer. You'll have a much better chance at winning your case with experienced representation. Click here to connect with attorneys serving your area.
by: Melissa Linebaugh, Contributing Author