What Happens at Social Security Disability Hearings?

attorney james ezzellA well-known fact among those in Alabama applying for Social Security disability benefits is that the chances of success at the initial application stage of the process are abysmally low.  In fact, in 2017 Alabama’s allowance rate at the first level of review was only 27.4 percent, compared to the then national allowance rate of 34.2.

Requesting a Hearing

So, like the vast majority claimants who wish to continue pursuing disability benefits, the next step in the process is requesting a hearing.  As I’ve pointed out before, while the possible approval rate does increase to 45%, the wait time is pretty atrocious.  The Florence, Alabama Office of Hearings Operations currently sports a 579 day processing time!

Two Pre-Hearing Conferences

While waiting for a hearing date, we will typically have at least two pre-hearing conferences.  The first one we typically go over the structure of the hearing, what medical providers we need to order updates from and complete a few documents the court requires.

We then will schedule another prehearing conference to discuss potential testimony.  These hearings are private, usually with only five people in attendance:  the judge, the claimant, the vocational expert, the court reporter and me.  There is no gallery of spectators listening in like in other courts.

Direct Testimony

Usually, the judge will start off with a few of what I call “softball” background questions, e.g. name, age, date of birth, address, telephone number, height, weight, level of education and so on.  Then the judge will hand it over to us and we will elicit direct testimony from the claimant about what ails them, what specifically they have been diagnosed with, what symptoms they present and ultimately how it all keeps them from effectively working full time.  During the direct testimony, the judge may ask some follow up questions.

What Does the Vocational Expert Do at a Hearing?

The judge will then ask the vocational expert about the claimant’s past work, what sort of education and physical abilities were required to perform them, etc.  The vocational expert will then respond to a series of hypothetical questions, such as:

  • What is the claimant’s age?
  • What is the claimant's education? Work experience?
  • If subjected to certain emotional or physical limitations, would the individual be able to perform his/her past or other work in the national and regional economy?

Other than saying hello, the vocational expert and court reporter usually don’t have much interaction with the claimant.

The Ruling

The judge typically won’t issue a ruling at the close of the hearing as they are supposed to put everything in writing.  Unfortunately, this can tack on several additional months to the process depending on the Office of Hearings Operation’s workload.  The whole process can take years up to this point, and even longer if you wish to appeal a judge’s unfavorable decision.

Let a Trusted SSA Disability Benefits Lawyer Help Your Case

If you or your child have been denied SSA disability benefits or suffer from a severe impairment that is expected to last for more than twelve months and that prevents you from doing any of your past or other work or is causing developmental delay in your child, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation appointment to discuss your situation.

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