Table of Contents
- What Should I Know if I’ve Been Called to an SSDI Hearing?
- What Will Be Asked of Me? How Can I Prepare?
- How Can I Tell if My Case Went Well?
- Who/What Is a Vocational Expert?
- What if the Judge Asks a Lot of Questions?
- What if the Judge Wants to Meet With My Attorney?
- Do I Need a Disability Attorney?
- Is There a Way to Tell if the Judge Is on My Side?
- Is It Bad if the Verdict Takes a While?
- Signs You Lost Your Disability Hearing
- What Options Do I Have if I Haven’t Won?
- Expert Advice to (Re)start Your Case
After waiting months or years, your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing is finally here. Finally, that’s a sign of relief. You’ve completed all the paperwork, received medical records from your doctors and work credits from your employers, submitted any requested medical record, and prepared for the administrative law judge questions at the SSDI hearing. But, unfortunately, there’s nothing more you can do but wait.
However, you may wonder whether you won your SSDI hearing or not.
There’s no way to tell if you’ll get a favorable judgment right after your hearing. But some signs show you’ve won your disability benefit case.
What Should I Know if I’ve Been Called to an SSDI Hearing?
If the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you may have to file an appeal and attend an SSDI hearing. Providing a solid testimony at the hearing will be critical in receiving any SSDI benefit.
Further, knowing what you’ll need to testify about will ensure you’re well-prepared for your hearing. For example, you’ll need to have answers to the following questions:
- What medical conditions caused you to become disabled, and what symptoms have you experienced?
- What mental and physical limitations did your disability cause?
- Your medications and medical treatments for your medical condition
- What is your work history?
- Your training and education
- Your daily activities and how your disabilities have hampered your ability to perform those activities
What Will Be Asked of Me? How Can I Prepare?
To prepare for a Social Security hearing, you must consider your disability and how it hinders you from going to work. Essentially, the judge will want to know how long you can sit, if you can lift heavy objects, and how long you can walk or stand. In addition, the judge will ask if you can concentrate on work instructions.
So be prepared to give elaborate examples from past jobs. For example, maybe you were fired from your last job because you kept forgetting job instructions, or you missed too many hours because you were sick.
Can you repeatedly work for eight hours a day? Or do you have to take breaks? Is it difficult to go to work on time? Do you need to leave early? These questions primarily concern how your body functions during a typical workday.
The judge will also ask you about physical and mental impairments and how they affect your ability to work.
How Can I Tell if My Case Went Well?
Unless the Administrative Law Judge issues a bench decision, it’s daunting to be 100% certain about the judge’s decision. But there are telltale signs that may show your disability hearing went well.
For instance, short testimonies and hearings are signs you won your hearing, or the judge will award you disability benefits.
The hearing office often schedules disability hearings in 45 and 60-minute increments. However, most times, disability hearings don’t take that much time. Most disability hearings take only 30 minutes because some judges and claimants cover information faster than others; thus, if your hearing takes 5 to 15 minutes, that is a sign that your disability hearing went well. Often, when the hearing is short, it means the judge didn’t have many questions for you and your disability attorney. It also means your medical records are solid and show severe medical disability. Here, the judge only needs to clarify the information about your work history and ask the vocational specialist a few questions.
A vocational specialist is an independent work specialist who contracts with Social Security to answer questions about jobs. If the judge asks the vocational specialists only one question and the specialist says you can’t do your past work and there are no other jobs available, the ALJ most likely will rule in your favor.
Social Security claims use disability evaluation handbooks outlining the disability criteria for specific medical conditions. Thus, if a medical expert says you meet the requirements, they found the criteria for disability in your medical documents, which means you’re likely to receive social security disability benefits.
Who/What Is a Vocational Expert?
During the Social Security hearing, a vocational expert is called to testify. Again, a vocational expert is an expert witness brought in by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA calls them at your appeal hearing to testify on:
- The kinds of jobs in your area and how many of those jobs there are
- The skills needed for various types of jobs
- If they feel you can do any of those jobs even with your limitations
A vocational expert also reviews your medical documents before the disability appeal hearing and listens to your testimony. Depending on this information, they use their expertise to inform the ALJ of the types of jobs you had previously and whether you can perform those jobs now. Suppose a vocational expert believes you can’t do those previous jobs because of disability limitations. In that case, they’ll discuss any skills you could learn that could open you up for different jobs.
During a vocational testimony, the vocational expert answers questions from the judge and your social security disability lawyer. Those questions are called hypotheticals and are related to your medical condition and the kind of work you could potentially do.
What if the Judge Asks a Lot of Questions?
Most Administrative Law Judges ask the claimant’s lawyer to make an opening statement. Then judges ask questions before allowing your attorney to proceed. For example, judges often ask about medical conditions, past work experience, and ongoing symptoms.
However, if a judge asks many questions, that’s a sign your disability hearing isn’t going well. Also, it means you haven’t proved your claim.
What if the Judge Wants to Meet With My Attorney?
Sometimes an Administrative Law Judge may ask to meet with your Social Security disability attorney without you. This often means the judge has evaluated your disability claim and wishes to award it in part. For instance, you may allege disability because of back pain that began in January 2021. But the ALJ believes you didn’t suffer disability until October 2021, when you underwent surgery.
A judge asking to meet with your disability attorney is good, as this is one of the signs your claim was valid.
Do I Need a Disability Attorney?
According to the Social Security Act (SSA), you can hire a disability lawyer at any level of the process, including during the reconsideration stage, in front of the ALJ, or during subsequent court hearings. These are all opportunities to hire an experienced disability attorney to increase your chances of receiving disability benefits.
Don’t take your right to hire a disability lawyer lightly. Having an experienced legal professional on your side can help you organize evidence. Also, it’ll give you peace of mind, and ultimately with an attorney on your side, you’re more likely to win your claim.
Disability law is a complex field. The intricacies of the SSA system and hearing levels make it necessary to hire legal representation. That’s because many disability attorneys spend most of their time mastering the disability system, and thus they have the expertise and experience to help you receive disability benefits.
Is There a Way to Tell if the Judge Is on My Side?
There are many ways to tell if a judge is on your side during an SSDI hearing, including:
- The ALJ issues a bench decision at the SSDI hearing: Social Security laws allow judges to give oral decisions at the close of the SSDI hearing. During a bench decision, the judge will tell you and your attorney the hearing went well, and you should expect to get a written decision consistent with the bench decision in a few weeks. However, don’t worry if the judge doesn’t issue a bench decision. Indeed, bench decisions rarely happen. In fact, most judges won’t decide on a claim at the SSDI hearing, no matter how strong your evidence is.
- The ALJ comments on the strength of the objective evidence in your claim: Most disability cases depend on credibility. Whether the ALJ believes your claims of mental and physical disability determines the outcome of your case. That’s because it’s challenging to quantify psychiatric or pain impairments, even though they’re often disabling.
Is It Bad if the Verdict Takes a While?
No, time isn’t a factor in SSDI hearings. It might take some time before your medical records get to Social Security offices. The disability examiner assigned to you could be swamped with cases. Or you may have a complicated medical condition that needs the judge to spend a lot of time reviewing your claim.
Signs You Lost Your Disability Hearing
Only around 33% of SSA disability applications are approved. This means many people requesting disability assistance must participate in an appeal process. While there are various stages of an appeal process, the disability hearing stage is often the point at which most decisions are overturned. Approximately 50% of claims are approved during an Administrative Law Judge Hearing.
However, there’s still a chance your hearing may not go well. Although the signs below don’t guarantee that a disability hearing went badly, they could indicate you may need to seek out additional legal support to continue with your case:
- Your judge expresses skepticism: Some judges see many people exaggerate or embellish testimonies. They may express skepticism if you appear to be using hyperbolic claims, particularly if medical records don’t support your statements. This is why it’s important to be honest and direct when answering the questions of your judge.
- Your records are limited: Your Administrative Law Judge must have sufficient medical evidence to make a judgment in your favor. The hearing may go poorly if you have limited or no recent medical evidence or treatment to support your claims. You may also find your chances of success drop if your records are incomplete or missing updates.
- You haven’t adhered to prescribed treatment: It’s important to demonstrate that you’re adhering to the treatment prescribed to you by your medical professional. If you’re failing to take medications regularly, or see your doctor when requested, the ALJ will be less likely to issue a favorable decision.
- You struggled to respond to questions: Each disability case is unique, and some cases have a “bad fact” in the record, such as evidence of the use of alcohol, or working after the alleged onset date. Being unable to respond to questions about these bad facts or give a reasonable explanation could lead to an unfavorable decision.
- You returned to work: It can take a long time for disability claims to reach a hearing. When waiting for support, some claimants are forced to return to work. However, if you can work, and the judge sees evidence of this, then they’ll be more likely to dismiss your claim.
- Your lawyer expresses concern: Your disability lawyer will have years of experience dealing with difficult cases. If they share concerns about your judgment or the state of the claim, this could be a sign that things haven’t gone according to plan. The attorney may even discuss the right to withdraw an application for disability. This could be in the client’s best interests in time, as an unfavorable judge’s decision can make it harder to prove disability on a new application.
What Options Do I Have if I Haven’t Won?
After the ALJ denies your Social Security Disability claims at the SSDI hearing, your next option is to appeal the judgment by filing a request for evaluation with the Appeals Council. Unfortunately, that’s often the last step in the legal process.
Although the Appeals Council isn’t likely to reverse the ALJ’ ‘s judgment, it happens sometimes.
You can also refile an application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or SSDI after a judge denies your claim. But, again, there’s no limitation on how many times you can refile an application.
Consider hiring a social security disability lawyer to review your legal options if an SSDI hearing doesn’t go well.
Expert Advice to (Re)start Your Case
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