When the important day of your Social Security Disability hearing finally comes, it's not unusual to feel nervous instead of relieved. After all, your hearing is your most important opportunity to prove why you qualify for disability benefits. It is perfectly understandable if you feel as if you are on trial for your life. After being denied twice – initially, and then at the reconsideration level of the appeals process – this could be your last chance to win. The hearing experience won’t be that dramatic, but you do need to be prepared for it.
Just be yourself. This event is not as formal as you may think. Your Social Security disability hearing won’t be held in a public courtroom. It is a more intimate setup. The room is usually similar to a small conference room. You will be seated at a table across from the judge. The only other people at the hearing will most likely be the judge’s hearing assistant, a vocational expert, and a medical expert from the Social Security Administration (SSA). You may also bring witnesses and your attorney or non-attorney advocate.
The hearing is 20 minutes to an hour long. Since your reason for being there is to prove that your medical condition prohibits you from working at any kind of work, do not feel like you must sit still throughout the hearing if you are in pain and it is uncomfortable to sit for long periods. You can get up and walk around at any time. You don’t have to ask permission.
SSA’s medical and vocational experts are at the hearing to inform the judge about your medical and work history. Based on that information, the judge will have many questions to ask you. The answers you provide to specific questions about your physical problems, your work capabilities and your daily activities will help the judge assess your ability to function at any type of work.
It is very important to listen carefully to what is asked of you and to answer questions as truthfully as possible, without exaggeration. However, be specific. If you can descriptively explain how your condition inhibits your abilities, that is much better than being vague or going off on a tangent about some other part of your body that has not been asked about. If you don’t know the answer to a question, or you can’t remember something, make sure no one else who is with you, such as a relative or friend, interferes and answers the question for you. It is much better to admit that you don’t know or can’t remember.
If you have had good representation from an attorney or non-attorney representative, you will be well-prepared to meet the Administrative Law Judge, especially if you have reviewed together what to expect and you know that your advocate will be there by your side throughout the hearing. Your attorney will know what questions to ask SSA's medical and vocational expert to lead them to the opinion that you are disabled and there are no jobs you can do.
Very rarely does an ALJ make a decision right then and there, however. It usually takes another two to four months to find out if you have been approved for Social Security disability insurance benefits. But, when that day comes, that’s when you can rightfully feel relieved.