In June 2020, more than 64 million US residents collected Social Security benefits. The vast majority of recipients consisted of both older Americans and young survivors of deceased workers.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a central part of Social Security. This insurance provides essential benefits to US workers who can’t support themselves any longer as a result of a serious or long-term medical impairment.
Applying for SSDI is never simple. About 65 percent of initial applications are denied.
If your initial application was denied, you may still be able to receive your benefits after a social security disability hearing. That means you’ll need to make another application and appear before a judge.
The hearing process is a lot more complex than a one paper application and an appearance before a judge. There are several stages involved and strict deadlines to observe. That’s why it’s a good idea to work with a seasoned social security disability attorney.
To help you prepare for a social security hearing, we’ve prepared this comprehensive guide. Here, you’ll see some of the things to expect during the process, including common social security disability hearing questions.
Read on to learn more.
When Should You Request a Hearing?
SSDI claims are usually denied for technical or medical reasons. If, after your initial claim is denied, you still believe you are entitled to SSDI benefits, the next step is to request a hearing.
You’ll need to complete the SSA-501 form and file it within 60 days of receiving the prior denial.
What Are the Stages of a Social Security Disability Hearing?
A social security disability hearing has four distinct stages. The vast majority of hearings are completed within the first three stages. Let’s examine each of these stages and what to expect in each of them.
Stage 1: Reconsideration
The first stage of the disability hearing process is fairly straightforward. Once your initial application has been denied, you can reapply for reconsideration within 60 days, as we pointed out earlier. The deadline is fixed, whether you apply yourself or use an SSD attorney.
What if you miss the deadline? Well, the SSA office accepts a reasonable explanation for doing so. That being said, it’s best to reapply as soon as possible.
Applying for reconsideration is largely similar to how you applied at the initial level. This time, however, you’ll need to submit information on all new medications, medical tests, or medical sources.
Some reconsideration cases are approved, particularly if your condition has worsened or you’ve provided additional medical evidence that shows you aren’t recovering as expected.
Stage 2: Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
Most claims at the reconsideration level are denied. If yours is among them, consider seeking an ALJ decision.
You should apply for this review within 60 days. Ensure you have any updated medical records with you and submit them to the office of the ALJ promptly.
The ALJ will review your claim in its entirety and make a decision. Besides the information you’ve provided, the ALJ uses insights from disability professionals to deliver a judgment on your disability claim.
Hearings at this level may be held virtually or in-person. If, for any reason, you cannot attend the hearing, write to SSA to notify them early enough.
Stage 3: The Appeals Council (AC)
If the ALJ denies your application, your next step is the Appeals Council. Here, you’ll be facing a Hearing Officer, also known as an Appeals Officer.
If you didn’t have an attorney in the other two stages, this is the time to hire one. The SSA will be prepared to defend its decision to deny your application, and you need an experienced attorney on your side to defend your position.
To start the AC process, your attorney must file a request for a Hearing Review within 60 days of receiving a denial from the ALJ. If the AC deems that the ALJ decision was right, they may deny your appeal right away. If the AC decides to review your claim, they’ll focus on the same issues as the ALJ did.
Step 4: Federal Courts
Very few cases make it to a federal court, which is the final step of the social security disability hearing. If the AC has denied your claim, you can file an appeal in a federal court within 60 days.
Claims at this level are filed in the judicial district where the claimant lives or their principal place of business is. You may also file your appeal in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
At this level, the importance of an SSD attorney from a reputable firm like Heard & Smith is unquestionable. Due to the current COVID 19 crisis, almost all courts are seeing SSDI claimants and their lawyers via teleconference.
What Happens in the Social Security Disability Hearing Room?
Now that you understand the stages you’ll probably go through during your disability hearing process, it’s time to look at what exactly happens during the actual hearing process.
Hearings are generally brief, and many are over within 15 or so minutes. If you provided new medical evidence, it may be all the judge needs to approve your claim within a short time. If you’ve brought a few witnesses to the hearing or are tabling new evidence, your hearing could take up to an hour.
One of the keys to winning a social security disability hearing is knowing what to say and what not to when before a judge. Chances are you’re going to be nervous, so it may be a good idea to prepare a written statement.
Prepare to explain why there are gaps in your medical history or why you waited years to see a physician. Above all, remain honest throughout the hearing. Steer clear of exaggerating complaints or symptoms.
One of the best things about appearing before a judge is that they’ll see your physical condition. If you have trouble standing, sitting, speaking, or moving as a result of your impairment, the ALJ will see it first-hand. This can work in your favor.
The claimant is allowed to bring witnesses to the disability hearing. These witnesses, especially vocational experts, doctors, and psychologists, can make a huge difference.
What Questions Should You Expect?
Before a judge makes a ruling on your claim, they’ll need to ask you certain questions. How you answer these questions can sway the judge’s decision in your favor. Generally, questions asked at the hearing stage cover five major areas:
Expect questions relating to your personal history. As you’d expect, these questions are simple. For instance, the judge will ask you to state your name, date of birth, place of residence, who you live with, and education level.
Where and when did you last work? For how long were you an employee there? Why did you stop doing this job?
These are just some of the questions relating to your work history you can expect. The judge will also want to know how much standing, witting, lifting, or tool operation your last job required.
Questions about your medical history are crucial in determining whether you qualify for SSDI benefits or not.
What’s the nature of your impairment, and how frequently does it occur? How does the impairment affect you? Does the impairment cause limitations?
Are you currently seeing a physician as a result of your impairment? If so, how long and how often have you been receiving treatment?
What kind of treatment or medications are you receiving? Did your impairment require hospitalization, and for how long?
Expect the ALJ to ask you questions about your day-to-day activities. The aim is to establish the extent to which your impairment limits you from leading a normal life.
For instance, the judge may ask what your physical capacity for sitting, standing, stooping, walking, or lifting is. Do you usually make your own bed, cook meals, do the dishes, dust, and do laundry? Can you drive, go shopping, and get dressed without help?
The ALJ will also ask questions relating to other habits, such as whether you consume alcohol or smoke.
Answer all questions truthfully. If the judge catches you lying, you can be sure your case will be denied.
What Not to Say During Your Hearing
Knowing what not to say at a social security disability hearing is just as important as knowing what to say. Certain statements can immediately reverse any gains you’d made towards winning your case.
For instance, don’t say that you can’t work because no one will hire you. Some people apply for SSDI benefits because they’ve just lost their job. SSDI isn’t meant to be a substitute for unemployment benefits.
Avoid making any untruthful statements too. Don’t say you’ve never touched a drink when you have. As we pointed out, lies can get your claim kicked out swiftly if discovered.
Now You Understand the SSD Hearing Process
If your application for SSD benefits was denied, don’t give up. You can still reapply and prepare for a social security disability hearing. With ample preparation for this process and a reputable lawyer on your side, you should be able to win your claim and start to enjoy the benefits you deserve.
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