The Social Security Administration routinely denies two-thirds of all initial applications for disability benefits. Administrative law judges, however, eventually overturn more than half of the denials that reach their desks.
How do you prepare for this all-important hearing? What can you expect? How long will the hearing last? A panel of senior claimant representatives from Allsup Inc., the nation's leading Social Security disability representation company, was asked to address the questions most often asked by claimants.
Q: Am I required to attend the hearing?
A: All disability claimants are afforded the right to appear at a hearing before an administrative law judge. A representative's goal is to get your case awarded as early as possible with the least amount of stress. With that in mind, representatives work with the administrative law judge and his or her staff to get your case reviewed and awarded before a hearing is scheduled. If the judge is unable to award your case on the record, a hearing is scheduled and your representative will attend with you.
Q: What happens if I can't make it to the hearing?
A: An ALJ can postpone a hearing for good cause. Examples may be an illness, inclement weather or a key witness not being available to attend the hearing.
Q: How should I dress?
A: Clean and comfortable. Don't overdress, but remember to be respectful to the court.
Q: May I bring my spouse or family members with me to the hearing for support?
A: Yes. You can also bring in other witnesses such as colleagues, coworkers and physicians - anyone you believe will help validate the legitimacy of your claim.
Q: Will the judge be hostile? How will he treat me?
A: The ALJ will treat you with respect and dignity - the hearing is not intended to be an adversarial situation. All ALJs differ in their styles, but your representative is aware of this and will prepare you in advance.
Q: Who else will be in the room?
A: Other people in the courtroom with you will be the administrative law judge, the hearing assistant who tapes the proceedings, your representative, and any witnesses whom you invite to the hearing. The judge also may bring in medical or vocational experts to help him obtain all the information he or she needs to make a fair decision.
Q: Should I try to exaggerate my illness or disability to help prove my case?
A: Absolutely not - but you do need to be thorough. Don't overstate the nature of your disability, but don't understate it either. Give the judge all the facts, and trust the ALJ to make a fair decision.
Q: What will my representative do for me during the hearing?
A: By the time your claim reaches the ALJ level, your representative has already done a lot of work. This includes preparing your case to ensure that all medical records are complete and that the judge and witnesses have all the information they need to make an informed decision. Your representative will also help clarify any questions asked by the ALJ and cross-examine witnesses when necessary.
Q: Who speaks to the judge during the hearing? My representative or me?
A: Although questions are usually directed to the claimant, the ALJ may ask your representative questions about certain details in your medical records. Your representative may also give opening and closing arguments as well as re-direct testimony.
Q: How long with the hearing last?
A: It varies depending on the number of witnesses and complexity of the claim, but you are usually in and out of the hearing in about an hour.
Q: What types of questions will the ALJ ask me?
A: The judge may ask questions about your disability, the amount of pain you suffer, and how your disability affects your daily life. Normally, however, ALJs will not ask technical medical questions about your condition.
Q: Will the ALJ make a decision the day of the hearing? If not, how long will it take?
A: As a rule ALJs do not release a decision immediately following the hearing, but they are required to inform you of the decision in writing. Unfortunately, this may take a while. Average waiting time after the hearing is about eight weeks.
Q: What do I do if the ALJ denies my claim?
A: Don't give up. If your claim is denied at the hearing level, your representative will appeal that decision to the Appeals Council for further review.
Q: What happens if the Appeals Council also denies my claim?
A: The next step of the appeal process is to take your case to the federal district court. Your representative will review your case to determine if an appeal to the court is warranted.
Source: Allsup Inc.
For more about Allsup Inc. services, call the Benefits Information Center at (800) 500-1064, or visit the companys web site at www.allsupinc.com