IS A MEDICAL EXPERT COMING TO YOUR HEARING?
Is a medical expert going to testify at your disability hearing? If so, do you know why they are going to say? Do you know what the judge is going to ask them? Can the medical expert examine you at the hearing?
If you are wondering about these questions, you are in the right place. Because we have answers.
First, it is easy to find out if a medical expert will testify at your hearing. You simply need to check your hearing notice. Normally, one of the later pages in the packet of information the SSA sends you, will contain the notice that a medical expert will attend. The notice contains the name of the doctor and their speciality. Typically, you will not want to object to the attendance of a medical expert at your hearing.
Second, if you have a complex disability, it is possible to request that a medical expert attend your hearing. However, medical experts are typically witnesses who are invited to testify by the judge. Medical experts, or ME’s, are trained in Social Security Disability law. For example, they know SSA’s listing of impairments, which is also known as the “blue book.”
Therefore, even if you ask for your own doctor to testify at your disability hearing, your doctor is not a “medical expert.” At least according to the SSA. This does not mean your physician is not a specialist in their field. Rather, it simply means your doctor is not familiar with SSA’s definition of disability.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE MEDICAL EXPERT AT THE DISABILITY HEARING?
If you have been found ineligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, then you have the right to request a hearing. Your hearing will be before an administrative law judge (ALJ) from the Social Security Administration. The ALJ’s job is to evaluate your claim, review your medical records, and determine if you are eligible for SSD benefits.
Medical Experts or ME’s commonly testify at SSD hearings. They are called by the ALJ to evaluate your medical records. Also, they explain your medical conditions to the judge. Additionally, they testify as to whether or not your medical condition meets or equals an SSA listing. Similarly, an ME can be requested by the claimant’s Social Security attorney. This is, however, mostly done in complex medical cases.
The medical expert who appears at the hearing is not your treating physician or any physician who has treated you. Instead, the medical expert is an objective third party who has no former knowledge of your case.
WHO IS THE MEDICAL EXPERT?
Medical experts are doctors, psychologists, or psychiatrists who the SSA calls to be objective witnesses. Doctors testify about physical disabilities. Psychologists or psychiatrists testify only about mental disabilities.
The ME provides impartial opinion evidence that the ALJ considers when making a decision about your disability case. In order to do this, the ME must review the medical exhibits in your file before your hearing. Usually, the medical expert testifies in person at a hearing. They may also testify by video teleconferencing (VTC) or by telephone. It is also possible for an ME to answer written questions after the hearing. These are interrogatories. They are sent after the hearing. Interrogatories require review and possibly filing objections. If you do not know how to do this, then hire an attorney.
Prior to your hearing, you can review the medical experts qualifications. If an ME is going to testify at your hearing, then they must submit a resume outlining their experience to the court. Your attorney can review those qualifications. If the medical expert is not qualified, the attorney can object to the medical expert’s appearance. Remember, at the hearing, the burden to prove disability is on you at the hearing.
WHAT DOES THE SSA REQUIRE THE MEDICAL EXPERT TO KNOW
In order to qualify as a medical expert for your hearing, the ME must be a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Also, they must be an expert in their area of medicine. A psychologist, for example, is not allowed to give testimony regarding your physical health. Likewise, a physician cannot testify as to your mental impairments. Additionally, the medical expert must be familiar with the following:
- What a medically determinable impairment is, and SSA’s definitions of symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings
- Social Security’s requirement to consider the combined effects of impairments
- The Listing of Impairments (commonly referred to as the “listings”)
- SSA’s definition of “meeting” and “medically equaling” the listings
- The concept of residual functional capacity (RFC) for all cases except SSI child cases. This includes the types of evidence and the kinds of physical and mental work-related limitations SSA considers in assessing RFC.
- In cases involving SSI claimants under age 18, the areas of pediatric medicine appropriate to the claim, typical child development and functioning, and SSA’s policy of “functionally equaling the listings.”
- SSA’s concept of “duration” of disability
The ME, during testimony, must cite to specific evidence to support their testimony. Also, the ME cannot comment on non-medical matters. For example, the ME cannot offer an opinion as to whether you can do your previous work. Also, the ME cannot offer an opinion about whether you are “disabled.” This is a question reserved by law for the ALJ.
WHAT QUESTIONS WILL THE ALJ ASK THE MEDICAL EXPERT?
You may be wondering what questions the ALJ will ask the medical expert at your hearing. First, the ALJ will ask the ME to if they can give impartial testimony, without regard for their fee. If they say yes, then they are competent to testify. Second, the ALJ will also whether the medical expert’s résumé or curriculum vitae is accurate. Third, the ALJ will likely ask whether the ME is familiar with SSA’s regulations and other rules.
Next, the ALJ will ask the ME to outline your impairments. The ME will do so and also cite to the record to show the judge if the medical record supports your objective medical impairments. Finally, the ME will testify as to whether or not your impairments meet or equal an SSA listing. Medical experts often testify about rare impairments, like acute leukemia or diseases like breast cancer.
SSA’s rules provide for the possibility of “medical equivalence” with a specific listing. They allow equivalence because the Listings cannot not include every possible impairment or combination of impairments a person could have. It also allows the ME and ALJ to take into account the combination of severe impairments.
For example, if you ME is a psychologist, they will testify as to whether your depression meets listing 12.04. Find out more about disability benefits for depression here. Similarly, if you have a back impairment like degenerative disc disease, then a physician will testify about whether your back arthritis meets listing 1.15.
THE MEDICAL EXPERT CAN TESTIFY ABOUT YOUR RFC
Additionally, the ME can testify about your residual functional capacity. The ME’s testimony will be based on your medical records. Your RFC is important because if you do not meet or equal a listing, then the vocational expert will use your RFC to determine if you can work. Learn more about vocational expert testimony here.
The medical expert can ask you questions during the hearing. But, the ME’s questions are usually only to clarify a fact in your medical history. Often, the ALJ will decide whether the ME’s question is pertinent to the case. The ALJ may also ask the question herself or she may allow the ME to ask the question of the claimant. The ME, however, cannot conduct any type of physical or mental examination during the hearing. If the ME tries to do so, your attorney should object.
In addition to testifying about your RFC, a medical expert can also help establish your onset date of disability. This is important because the onset date of your disability determines how much back pay you will receive. For example, if the medical expert testifies your disability began two years prior to your application date, then you may be eligible for up to one year of back pay prior to your application date.
However, it is also possible for the medical expert to testify you are not eligible for past benefits. The expert can claim you only recently became disabled, even though you haven’t been working. That is when an attorney is crucial to the case. The attorney can use the medical record to prove the medical expert’s testimony is wrong. Your attorney will fight for your full back benefit.
HIRE AN ATTORNEY TO CROSS-EXAMINE THE MEDICAL EXPERT
Unfortunately, if you do not hire an attorney to help you, you will probably lose your case. The majority of cases turn on the ME’s testimony at the hearing. An attorney can make sure that all of your symptoms are under the medical expert’s consideration.
You will also need an attorney to cross-examine the medical expert. You may be able to provide testimony on your own to the judge, but when it comes time to ask questions of the ME, you need knowledge of SSA’s regulations. Likewise, you need a thorough knowledge of your medical condition and the medical record. The rules regarding the categories of jobs and how physical impairments fit into those categories are complex. If you do not have an attorney, you can lose your hearing due to the medical expert’s testimony.
If your attorney has experience, they will also know what the ME is likely to say in response to the ALJ’s questions. They will also know how to cross-examine the ME and solicit testimony regarding your residual functional capacity (RFC). Learn more about the role of your residual functional capacity here. The RFC assessment is crucial to a finding of disability if you do not meet an SSA listing.
Cross-examination of the medical expert is difficult. Trying to do it yourself is a bad idea. Especially if you have never done it before. If nothing else, you should hire an attorney to represent you if the Judge has called a medical expert to your hearing.
CANNON DISABILITY CAN HELP YOU WIN YOUR DISABILITY BENEFITS
If you want to learn more about the representatives at Cannon Disability Law you can go to our About Us page. For example, Andria Summers can help you prepare for your hearing. She has also won thousands of disability cases. Dianna Cannon has been representing disability claimants for thirty years. Brett Bunkall also has significant experience helping people obtain their SSI and SSD benefits.
In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases for our clients. Our specialists can help you apply for disability benefits using the SSA’s website. Likewise, if you need an appeal, we can help you do that too. There are also many forms that will need to be filled out. Don’t worry. If you have questions about these forms, we will answer them. You can learn more about SSA’s appeal forms here. Call us for free today.
Additionally, we represent clients in many states, including Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and California Find out more about Nevada disability benefits here. Learn more about Utah disability benefits and California disability benefits here. No matter where you live, we want to be your disability legal team. Also, no matter what state you live in, we can talk to you for free about your case. Contact us today. We will do our best to answer your questions about whether a medical expert will testify.
CANNON DISABILITY LAW WORKS ON A CONTINGENCY FEE
Prior to your disability hearing, you may need to hire an attorney. In order to hire Cannon Disability, all you need to do is call or contact us. We offer a free consultation. Also, it also doesn’t cost you any money to hire us. Why? Because you only pay us an attorney fee if we win your case. This is a contingency fee. It means if we win your SSD case, you pay out of your back benefits. If you do not win, there is no attorney fee to pay.
If there are costs in your case, then you pay those. But typically those costs are less than $100. Once we win, we are paid from your back benefit. But, to hire most lawyers, you have to pay upfront. We don’t work like that. You don’t have a job. So, the only way to pay the attorney fee, is for us to win your case. That is our goal. Contact us. See what we can do for you.
SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CASES IS OUR LEGAL EXPERTISE
There are many law firms who claim they “specialize” in Social Security disability law. But, they really don’t. Instead, they practice personal injury law. Or perhaps they practice some other type of law that has nothing to do with Social Security benefits. These law firms think you will call and not question their experience. Because they have so little experience, they think Social Security disability cases are easy. Don’t be fooled.
Representing a few Social Security clients does not make those firms specialists in disability law. Nor does it give them the experience to cross-examine a medical expert about SSA’s listings. Before you hire them, ask them how many SSD and SSI cases they have taken to court. If it is less than 100, don’t hire them.
When you hire your disability attorney, choose one who has over 30 years of experience and a stellar record. You want the best disability attorney to help you. Find one who can question the medical expert. You need to win benefits. In order to win, you should choose a law firm who only practices Social Security disability law. Choose Cannon Disability. Contact us now. We know how to cross-examine the medical expert at your disability hearing.