Once your initial disability application and request for reconsideration are denied, you can file for a Social Security disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). A hearing recorder is always present to assist the ALJ and to record the hearing for purposes of appeal.
At most hearings, MEs (medical experts) and VEs (vocational experts) hired by the ALJ will also attend the hearing.
The ALJ hires a medical expert to assist him or her in learning about the medical conditions found in your medical evidence record and the limitations those conditions are expected to cause you. It’s important to remember that the ALJ hearing your case is not a doctor.
The vocational expert is there to explain to the ALJ what types of duties and skills were involved in your past jobs, whether or not you could return to that type of work given the limitations caused by your medical conditions, and whether there are any other kinds of jobs in the regional or national economy you could do with those limitations.
You are entitled to have anyone that may add valuable information to your case testify for you at your hearing. Often, disability applicants choose a family member, friend, or former employer who has intimate knowledge of their health and or physical disabilities. However, you can also invite your doctors, teachers, or counselors who have treated you and who have their own expert opinions regarding your physical and/or mental health and limitations.
Although each judge is free to handle his or her hearings as he or she wishes, most begin by admitting all of the exhibits in your claim file into evidence and by asking you and experts present at your hearing to take an oath to tell the truth. From there, the process depends on your ALJ. Some Administrative Law Judges will question you first, while others go directly to questioning the experts, getting his or her opinions before asking you any questions. In either case, you should be allowed to ask questions of any experts from whom the ALJ took testimony.
After the experts testify, you, your lawyer, or the judge can ask your witnesses questions. For more information, see our article on what to expect at your disability hearing.