YOUR HEARING IS SCHEDULED: WHAT NOW?
Your hearing may be one of the most important events that you experience in the Social Security process of winning SSDI and SSI benefits. In most cases, applicants for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will go to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You need to know the steps to take to prepare yourself.
Your hearing is a vital step for many reasons, including that YOU can testify as to how your medical conditions, whether mental or physical, affect you on a daily basis. This is your chance to speak your mind. You should hire a lawyer to help you with your hearing. Because a lawyer can prepare you to testify and make sure that all of your medical evidence is in the records. So, what happens when you have a date for your hearing? Read on:
YOU WILL RECEIVE A NOTICE OF HEARING
Once your hearing time is set, the SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations will send you a packet in the mail. This Notice of Hearing includes important information, including the date, time, and location of your court date. It also includes other information, such as whether a vocational expert or medical expert will be called to testify. It also tells you the name of your judge.
Normally, your notice will also include forms to update your medications and recent medical treatment. If you do not have a new doctor, you do not need to report that information to the judge. Likewise, the judge will send you a work history report. If you haven’t worked since you filed your application for benefits, you also do not need to complete that form. Please note that the forms contain a date on them. They ask you if there have been “any changes” since the date on the form. Therefore, the judge is simply looking for updates or changes. You do not need to repeat the information that has already been sent in on the prior forms you sent in.
The new forms ensure the ALJ has updated information for your hearing. It also helps your lawyer, as well. When you receive your hearing notice, make sure you fill those forms out quickly and forward them to our office. We will then send them into the judge.
The forms also contain a statement that you will be at your hearing. You need to sign that and send it in or sign it and give it to us and we will send it in for you. That way the judge knows you will be coming to your hearing.
WORK WITH YOUR PARALEGAL TO BE READY FOR YOUR HEARING
It is important to be on the same page with your hearing team. Your team includes a paralegal and an attorney. A paralegal will contact you to go over your file soon after the SSA schedules your hearing. The will ask you questions about your work history and your medical records. Ideally, your file should already be updated with medical records, with the possible exception of recent progress notes.
Work with your paralegal to ensure that everything is in your file. Medical records are the most important piece of evidence. So, make sure that you tell your team about all of your doctors so that your chance at success is at its very highest!
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDICAL RECORDS TO PROVE DISABILITY AT YOUR HEARING
When you first apply for benefits, you should include a copy of your medical records with your application. The burden of proving disability is one you. This is true even though Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency, collects your medical records. Many times, DDS does not collect all of your records. Instead, they may only collect records that go back to the time that you claim you could no longer work. Your heart condition may have a much longer history. Therefore, it is important to collect all of your records.
If you do not have medical evidence of your condition, the SSA will deny your claim. Medical records for your medical condition can be difficult to obtain. On this website we have lists of free and low cost medical clinics where you can go and get treatment. For example, we have a list of free and low cost health resources in Utah and we have a similar list for free medical health resources for Nevada.
If you need help collecting your records or finding a doctor, then contact Cannon Disability Law. We are experts in getting medical records and we can also use our resources to help you find free or low cost medical care. Learn more here about what you need from your doctor to prove your SSD case. Remember, you cannot win benefits without evidence and medical records are the evidence that the SSA requires you to submit as proof that you deserve benefits. Under SSA’s rules, you must submit all evidence into the record at 5 days prior to your hearing. Learn more about the 5 day evidence rule here.
WHO IS THE MEDICAL EXPERT AT YOUR HEARING?
Medical experts (ME) are doctors, psychologists, or psychiatrists who the SSA calls to be objective witnesses. Doctors testify about physical illness. Psychologists or psychiatrists testify only about mental conditions. The ME’s testimony will include a review of any consultative examinations. Learn more here about how to prepare for your psychological exam with a CE.
The ME provides impartial opinion evidence that the ALJ considers when making a decision about your benefits. For example, if you have cancer, then the doctor might testify that you meet the cancer listing. In order to do this, the ME must review the medical record before your hearing.
Additionally, the ME can testify about whether your Depression meets SSA’s disability listing. Likewise, an ME who is a psychologist can testify about your PTSD, Anxiety Disorder, or other disabling mental conditions.
Usually, the medical expert answer questions in person at a hearing. However, they may also testify by video 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. Do not make the mistake of not preparing for the medical expert.
Prior to your hearing, you can review the ME’s qualifications. If an ME is going to testify at your hearing, then they must submit a resume about their experience to the court. Your attorney can review the resume of the medical expert. If the medical expert does not have the proper experience, the attorney can object to the appearance of the medical expert. Remember, at the hearing, the burden to prove disability is on you.
HIRE AN ATTORNEY TO QUESTION THE MEDICAL EXPERT
Unfortunately, if you do not hire an attorney to help you, you will probably lose your case. Most cases turn on the ME’s testimony at the hearing. An attorney can make sure that all of your symptoms are being considered by the medical expert.
You will also need an attorney to question 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 rules. Likewise, you need to understand your medical condition and the medical record.
The rules regarding jobs and how physical conditions fit into certain jobs are complex. If you do not have an attorney, you can lose your hearing due to the testimony of the medical expert.
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 question the ME and solicit testimony regarding your residual functional capacity (RFC). Learn more about the role of your residual functional capacity here. The RFC 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.
WHO IS THE VOCATIONAL EXPERT?
The vocational expert (VE) is an expert witness. The VE is almost always used as a witness at most hearings. But, it is up to the judge as to whether they will call a VE to testify at your hearing. The VE is at the hearing to testify about jobs. VE’s have training in how to place people in jobs. They also understand the numbers and types of jobs that exist in the nation. They are at the hearing in order to answer questions about hypothetical people in the work force.
At your hearing, the Judge asks you questions about what you are capable of doing during an 8 hour work day. The SSA calls this your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC what you can physically and mentally do throughout an 8 hour work day. Therefore, your answers to the questions at the hearing are very important. As is the medical records you submit.
The Judge listens to your hearing testimony and reads the symptoms from your medical records to determine what you can do on the job. At the end of your hearing, the Judge will ask the VE hypothetical questions. Likewise, your attorney will also ask questions. The VE’s answer to these questions determines whether you will be paid benefits. It is important that your attorney knows how to question the vocational expert. Often it is VE’s testimony that determines whether you win or lose your benefits.
HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS FOR THE VOCATIONAL EXPERT
The Judge will ask hypothetical questions to the VE about whether or not a person with your condition can work. Typically, the Judge will use three to four hypothetical questions for the expert. These questions can include many different symptoms from your physical and mental conditions.
For example, the Judge may ask if a person cannot concentrate on the job, could they work. Or, the Judge may ask what kind of work would be available to a person who cannot lift more than 20 pounds. The Judge’s questions will include your residual functional capacity or RFC. Learn more here about your residual functional capacity here.
Once the Judge is done asking questions, your attorney has the right to question the VE. For those who do not hire an attorney, they are left to try to ask the VE questions on their own. Obviously, most people do not know what questions to ask because they have never been to a hearing. Nor do they have the training they need in order to understand what questions to ask.
VE’s testify about what kinds of jobs are available to you. However, they also testify as to the number of jobs that exist in the national economy. For example, a VE may testify as to whether your work skills can be used in other work and the specific jobs in which they can be used. A VE may also testify as to the affects of solely mental symptoms on the range of work a person can do. Likewise, the VE can testify about the erosion of the job base caused by your mental condition.
HIRE AN ATTORNEY WITH EXPERIENCE TO HELP YOU
Unfortunately, if you do not hire an attorney to help you, you will probably lose your case. Most cases turn on the VE’s testimony at the hearing. If you are not capable of questioning the VE, you will not win. The judge relies on the VE’s testimony. So, you need to be able to prove, using VE testimony, that you cannot work. An attorney can make sure that all of your symptoms are part of the hypothetical to the VE.
Also, the attorney who has experience is familiar with the jobs in the national economy. If the attorney has this experience, then they also know what jobs the VE is likely to say that you can do. This part of the hearing is difficult. Trying to do it yourself will not work. If nothing else, you should hire an attorney to represent you if the judge calls a VE to testify at your hearing.
WHAT WE DO TO HELP YOU WIN SSD BENEFITS
You do not need to try to win SSDI and SSI benefits by yourself. Cannon Disability Law can help file your disability application. Also, we can help you appeal every SSA denial. That way, you can focus on your health. For example, our attorneys and staff can:
- Send you the paperwork you need to become our client
- Help you file your application for SSD and SSI benefits
- Inform the SSA that they should automatically pay your benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Rules
- Request reconsideration if you receive an initial denial from Disability Determination Services
- Help you confirm your attendance at a Consultative Examination
- Request a Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
- Prepare you to be a good witness at your SSA hearing
- Represent you at your hearing and question the vocational and medical witnesses
- Read more about vocational experts here
- Learn more about medical expert testimony here
- Request review of an unfavorable decision with the Appeals Council
- Request review of an Appeals Council denial in Federal Court
If you file your application for benefits online at Social Security’s website, then you have 6 months to complete the application. Once you submit your application online, the SSA sends you an application summary in the mail. You must sign it and mail it back.
Additionally, once you receive a denial, you have 60 days to file an appeal. You must also meet the time limit set by the SSA. If you do not, then you will have to start the process over again. That means you will lose any benefits you could receive on any prior application.
WORK WITH YOUR LAWYER ON YOUR HEARING PREPARATION
In addition to medical records, your lawyer may request other evidence. For example, this may include letters from your doctor or former employer. Your lawyer may want to send in letters from your family or friends. Additionally, there may be other forms that your doctor can complete on your behalf. While these records are only additions to what is already in your SSA file, they can provide valuable support for your SSD and SSI claim.
With your file complete and ready to go, you will then talk with your lawyer. This meeting provides crucial information regarding your claim and the court process. Your meeting is likely the final stage before going to your hearing, so make sure to ask questions at the meeting with your lawyer.
You have a hearing date. You have completed the Notice of Hearing forms and updated your medical records. Additionally, you have talked to your doctor about special forms and letters to be written on your behalf. Finally, you have prepared with your lawyer to testify at your hearing. Now it is time for the ALJ to hear your story. So take a deep breath, focus, and speak your mind. It’s the very best way to ensure you receive the help you need. If you need representation at your ALJ hearing, please contact Cannon Disability Law.
We offer a free review of your case. Also, you only pay an attorney fee is we win your case. If we do not win your benefits, then you do not owe an attorney fee. In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases. Contact us today. Put our legal experience to work for you.