How to Ace Your Social Security Disability Hearing

social security disability hearing

If your application for Social Security disability benefits gets denied, don’t give up. You can appeal the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s decision by submitting a request for reconsideration. If that fails, your next step is to request a Social Security disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Below, we’ll explain how you can get ready to present your appeals case at your Social Security disability hearing.

What to Expect if Your Social Security Disability Hearing Happens In Person

While a Social Security disability hearing might sound scary, it’s really just an office room with a table and a judge’s bench. These hearings are closed to the public and rarely have more than a few extra people in the room. Your attorney, a judge’s aide and potentially a hearing reporter will be present—that’s it. The setting itself isn’t scary, but you should still take your testimony very seriously. The judge will record your hearing, so speak clearly and loudly. Remember anyone listening to that recording won’t be able to see your physical movements or body language, so be sure to verbalize everything you need to communicate regarding your case.

What to Expect if Your Social Security Disability Hearing Happens Via Video Conferencing

In most cases, the fastest and easiest way to get your Social Security disability hearing scheduled is through video conferencing. Video hearings are exactly like in-person hearings, except you’ll have more flexibility in where you can appear and which judge will hear your case. Here’s exactly what to expect from your video Social Security disability hearing:

  • You’ll receive a mailed letter at least 75 days in advance notifying you of your scheduled video hearing date. This could be your closest Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) field office, SSA local office location or your lawyer’s office. If you don’t already have a Social Security lawyer, getting one to represent your case could improve your odds of winning benefits. Be sure to put the video hearing’s date, time and address on your calendar.
  • Get to your video hearing appointment at least 30 minutes early. You’ll want to ensure any witnesses, your legal representative and your recording technician are present and prepared to start your Social Security disability hearing on time.
  • Speak clearly and directly during your video hearing, but don’t rely on body language or gestures to convey your message. Much like an in-person Social Security disability hearing, the ALJ will be able to hear and see you in real-time. However, the technician will only record the audio portion of your hearing, not the video portion. For that reason, it’s very important for you to say everything you want the judge to consider about your appeals case. Gestures and body language get lost when relying on audio recordings alone for your hearing’s records.

Six Success Tips for Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Below, we list six success tips that may improve your odds of winning benefits during your appeals hearing.

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #1: Document, Document, Document

The more documentation you can give the judge at your hearing, the better. He or she needs a clear and decisive picture of how debilitating your disability really is, and how it prevents you from working. Unfortunately, stories about how much time and money you’ve spent in the doctor’s office will only take you so far. Make sure to gather any and all medical evidence that involves your disability, including lab test results, bills, x-rays, treatment notes and hospital records, if applicable. Some judges like to review these records prior to the hearing, so the earlier you can submit it, the better.

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #2: Check Your Case for Holes

The judge will review all your relevant documents for evidence that proves your disability genuinely keeps you from working. To ensure they’re granting benefits to the correct people, they’re also checking your case for weak spots. Go over your records a few times to look at the evidence with new eyes and take stock of your limitations. What holes might a judge find in those records, and how will you fill them at the hearing?

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #3: Show Up On Time

No judge is tolerant of anyone who shows up late to a Social Security disability hearing, regardless of the reason why. Showing up on time and well-dressed is crucial for making a good impression and being taken seriously during your testimony. Depending on your disability, this may mean making travel arrangements ahead of time or getting there extra early. While video hearings are usually held closer to where you live, you should still show up 30 minutes to an hour before your scheduled start time.

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #4: Paint a Picture

The better you can describe your pain and work limitations to the judge, the more likely you are to win disability benefits during your appeal. Instead of describing what your disability feels like in an isolated way, try incorporating it into a story about your day-to-day life: What activities are now difficult or totally impossible to do because of your condition? Think about specific job tasks, volunteer activities, or hobbies you used to enjoy, but now cannot do. Does your spouse usually fold clothes and empty the dishwasher because arthritis makes those tasks impossible for you? Maybe you used to volunteer as a crossing guard at your grandchild’s school but cannot stand or walk for very long due to diabetes-induced neuropathy. Or maybe you were the floor manager at a busy retail store but had your hours cut before being let go after you ruptured a disc. Are there any specific memories that stand out to you? The more vivid and detailed your stories are, the better they will translate during your hearing.

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #5: Don’t Rely on One Person’s Opinion to Make Your Case

Your personal relationship with one doctor, chiropractor or pharmacist is inherently different than making a cut-and-dried analysis using your medical records. The two of you probably discussed your symptoms and talked about potential diagnoses before filing your claim, but one person’s opinion won’t carry as much weight as medical evidence will in making your case. One doctor’s opinion could deviate significantly from what’s in your written medical records, so be sure to reference any lab results, x-rays or other relevant documents. To give yourself as much credibility as possible, avoid discussing anything that’s not written down as fact. It’s OK to talk about your limitations, though—they’re the most crucial components of a case for winning your appeal.

Social Security Disability Hearing Success Tip #6: Get Legal Representation for Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Legal representation is the best way to improve your odds of winning your Social Security disability hearing. With an advocate or attorney on your side, you’ll win the most benefits you’re rightfully owed and get your hearing scheduled faster. Not sure where to find the right person to represent your case? We can connect you with a Social Security attorney or advocate in your area who can handle your Social Security disability hearing. Your lawyer will help you collect all necessary documents required for your hearing, from medical records to bank statements and even work history reports. Best of all, you’ll pay nothing to have a lawyer represent you during your appeal hearing unless he or she helps you win benefits.

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