Your Hearing Date is Set
When you receive notification from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your case has been scheduled for review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you and your Freedom Disability Advocate have more than likely been waiting for this appointment for over one year. (The average wait time in 2010 is 442 days.)
Your hearing is your most important opportunity for getting approved for disability benefits so it is understandable to feel intimidated or nervous about it. However, by the time you walk into the hearing room, your Freedom Disability Advocate will have helped you feel well-prepared to meet the judge.
The Disability Hearing Room
Your hearing will not be held in a public courtroom. It is in a much more informal setting, similar to a small conference room. You and your Freedom Disability Advocate will be seated at a table facing the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
Who to Expect at Your Hearing
In addition to the judge and yourself, there will be a hearing assistant present to record the proceedings. Also the judge may have requested that a vocational expert (VE) and a medical expert (ME) from SSA be present at the hearing. They are there to help the judge understand your case’s medical and work history documentation. The only other people at the hearing will be your Freedom Disability Advocate and any optional witnesses you have brought with you to help support your case.
How Long Will the Hearing Take?
A hearing can take from 20 minutes to an hour and depends on how long the ALJ needs to understand how your medical condition prohibits you from working at any kind of work.
Don’t Hide How You Feel
If you experience pain or discomfort, don’t hide it. After all, the judge wants to understand your symptoms. For example, you are not required to stay seated throughout the hearing if this bothers you. You can get up and walk around at any time and you don’t have to ask the judge for permission.
What to Wear
Be neat but be yourself. This is not a business-style, dress-up event. You should look the way you normally do every day.
What the ALJ Wants to Know About You
The ALJ is very interested in meeting with you so that a fair decision can be made about your case. You will be asked a lot of questions about your physical problems, your work capabilities and your daily activities. The answers you provide will help the judge assess your ability to function at any type of work. Be truthful and stay specific. It is better to give details about how your condition inhibits your abilities than to be vague. But, also, don’t exaggerate. If you don’t know the answer to a question, or if you can’t remember something, admit that you don’t know or can’t remember. No one else, such as a relative or friend who may be with you, should answer for you.
Know Your Case
It is important to spend time to review your case with your Freedom Disability Advocate before the hearing. Look over your medical records together to be familiar with what your doctors have reported about your medical condition. Something in their statements might alert the vocational expert to think that you can perform certain job functions. If this should happen, you will be better prepared to explain why you cannot work and why you deserve disability benefits.
You and Your Freedom Disability Advocate
Your case may have been transferred to a Freedom Disability attorney or a Freedom Disability SSA-accredited non-attorney by the time your case reaches the hearing level. The application process takes a long time, from the initial level on through to the hearing level of an appeal, but the Freedom Disability Advocates who work on your case will always stay in touch to keep you well-informed on the status of your case throughout the process.
It usually takes two to four months for the ALJ to make a decision. Some cases may be decided right away. This is called a bench decision and occurs if the judge decides that a wholly favorable decision is warranted right away.
Things to Remember
- Your Freedom Disability Advocate will be with you throughout the hearing.
- There will be time before the hearing to review your case with your Freedom Disability Advocate.
- This is an informal event, not like a public courtroom trial case.
- Wear comfortable clothes. This is not a corporate business meeting.
- The ALJ wants to know you. It is important to just be yourself.
- Don’t try to hide your symptoms. Your medical condition is why you are there.
- Listen carefully to what is asked of you.
- If you don’t understand a question, ask that the question be repeated.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, no one else at the hearing should answer for you.
- Always be truthful. Don’t exaggerate your symptoms. Stay specific.
- Try to relax. It’s understandable to feel nervous. This is a big day. But you will be ready for it.
- Unless the ALJ makes a bench decision, you will not know if you are approved for at least two to four more months.