Being rejected for Social Security Disability benefits can be discouraging, especially if you’re tight on funds and really need money. If you’ve been rejected, you can request a hearing in front of a judge, which can be intimidating. That’s why we’ve put together this article to help you understand what to expect at a Social Security Disability hearing and how you can increase your chances of winning.
What are Social Security Disability benefits and why do people need them?
Social Security Disability benefits are for people who are unable to work, either due to a medical condition or injury. People often need these benefits to help cover their cost of living since they are unable to work and make an income.
Usually, a person is eligible for these benefits if they aren’t able to work for a period of twelve months or more. People who need these benefits have to apply for them, either online or through the mail, and wait for an answer from the Social Security Administration, which can take several months. If your initial application gets denied, then you can file an appeal and request a hearing with an administrative law judge to see if he or she will overturn the rejection for benefits.
Scheduling a hearing
When you request a hearing with a judge, it takes some time for the hearing to be scheduled. Usually, the hearing is scheduled for a year after you request it. The average in the sate of Utah is 339 days.
The reason that it takes so long is because there is a backlog of cases. Hearings may be pushed sooner but it’s rare. The only reason a hearing may be sooner is if the Social Security Administration believes that a claimant has “dire need” or their condition is “critical.”
What information do I need for my hearing?
The most important information for your hearing is your medical records; the judge gives the most consideration to them. Making sure all your medical records are in your file is the most important thing you can do to prepare for your hearing. Having all your medical records will help the judge make the best decision possible on your case.
Work records can also be very important; they can show how much work you started missing before you had to stop permanently working. These records can carry a lot of weight, especially if you had a good work history of always being on time and never calling in prior to having problems.
What to expect at a hearing
Lots of different things happen at a Social Security hearing. First off, a Social Security hearing is an administrative hearing, so it doesn’t take place in a courtroom. The claimant is placed under oath and mainly questioned about their work history as well as their mental and physical impairments.
Claimants are expected to be as honest as they can be in describing their physical and mental issues. In my experience, I’ve found that claimants tend to understate the severity of their impairments because of being rejected multiple times and have heard that their conditions are not debilitating enough to qualify for benefits.
Don’t do this. If you understate your condition, you’ll be missing out on the benefits you need. On the other hand, it doesn’t look good if you exaggerate the severity of your condition either.
Medical and vocational specialists
Usually, at a Social Security Disability Hearing, the judge has a vocational specialist present. A vocational specialist verifies the claimant’s employment history as well as how strenuous the claimant’s jobs were. The specialist rates the claimant’s past jobs on a scale of “sedentary,” to “difficult” in terms of physical exertion. The judge spends time asking the vocational specialist hypothetical questions about what kind of work the claimant can do or if the claimant is limited in what they are able to do. The judge will also ask if the claimant is still able to do the kind of work they once did.
Besides vocational specialists, the judge will also sometimes have a medical specialist present. The medical specialist is an expert in medicine who is not the claimant’s doctor. They evaluate the claimant’s medical records and the judge asks them if the claimant meets the disability requirements. If a medical specialist isn’t present during the hearing, then the judge will sometimes defer written questions to one.
If a claimant retains an attorney to help them with their disability case, then the attorney can ask people to testify to the judge on the claimant’s behalf. Usually, this is a spouse, family member, or close friend. The witness who testifies for the claimant can present a different perspective to the judge – usually on how the claimant is struggling as a result of their impairment. Witnesses can be helpful to a claimant’s case, especially if the claimant is mentally impaired.
How long until I get an answer?
Usually it takes 30-60 days to receive an answer about whether you won your case. Because it takes almost a year to have the hearing, this is a quick response. The judge needs time to deliberate and have any additional questions answered by a medical expert, if needed.
If the judge decides to award benefits, you’ll start receiving them. You’ll also receive any back benefits you may have missed out on while waiting for your hearing.
Getting a lawyer
Although it is possible to win your Social Security Disability hearing without the help of a lawyer, getting one can make the process smoother. Attorneys understand the difficult technicalities behind the laws that govern Social Security. Lawyers also understand the process of going through a disability hearing and can advise you on what information is relevant. Because of this, a lawyer can help you get the best possible outcome.
Whether you have an upcoming Social Security Disability hearing or are just getting started with the appeals process, contact us today for a free consultation. We’ve had over 30 years of experience helping Utahns in need appeal their Social Security denial. Don’t let a denial letter stop you from getting the benefits you need.