You’re unable to work and you’ve applied for social security disability and been denied. Maybe you appealed to the reconsideration step in the process, if your state does have the reconsideration step, and were denied at that level as well. Not to worry, this isn’t uncommon; many claimants and their claims advance to an in-person hearing in front of a federal administrative law judge. Most of the time, this is a good thing. But most people applying for social security disability haven’t been to court before, and certainly haven’t made an appearance in front of a social security disability judge before. So, how does the process work?
- Prep for the hearing: Many disability claimants decide to hire an attorney when they reach the in-person hearing step of the process. This is understandable, due to the specific nature of the hearing process. Most folks feel more comfortable and prepared with an expert by their side, handling the preparation and documentation required to successfully complete an in-person hearing. This preparation consists of procuring certain specific documents from doctors and medical providers that lay out the physical and/or mental restrictions their patients have. These documents, called “medical source statements,” can be very helpful and persuasive when it comes time for the hearing. Also, an attorney can request and acquire the most recent medical records from all relevant medical treatment providers and upload them directly into the social security administration’s file through an online portal unavailable to the general public. This can make the record-collecting process much easier on claimants – since no faxing or mailing of large medical files will be necessary. Prior to the hearing, the claimant will also want to make sure all the required elements of the claim have been verified, explained, and accounted for – for instance: any earnings after the alleged onset date need to be explained via paperwork or worked through and understood fully prior to the hearing. Further, any attempts at return to work need to be discussed as well. The file should be studied to make certain all records, documents, forms, and releases have been entered into the file properly.
- Hearing day prep: There are many offices, formerly called ODARs (office of disability and review), across the country. These offices deal only with social security disability hearings and reviews. Depending on the location of the claimant, the office may be a regional office or a combination office. A claimant may also have an option to object to a video hearing or agree to a video hearing, depending on claimant’s proximity to a regional office where administrative law judges hear cases in person. No matter what, there will likely be a hearing office within a short drive of claimant’s location. Once the location and video situation have been set, it’s time for the hearing itself. Every hearing location is a federal office, so security will be present. It will be necessary to go through a metal detector and be wanded prior to entering the building, which is federal security policy throughout the country. Once inside, there are typically meeting rooms where the claimant can review his or her disc (contains all records submitted and all filings within the case) or where claimants can meet and talk to their attorney rep. An attorney rep will walk the claimant through the hearing from start to finish, answer any questions about the rules, and explain everything that will go on throughout the hearing. An experienced attorney rep will have handled hundreds, even thousands of hearings, and will be able to prep a claimant on every detail of the hearing.
Having an experienced attorney as a guide through the hearing process can be a valuable strategy for making the process smooth, painless, and increasing the odds of winning the claim.