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What happens at a Social Security Administrative Law Judge hearing?

The hearing before the Social Security Administrative Law Judge hearing is a critical part of the application process for people needing Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

The only time you will get to go “face-to-face” with the decision maker on your SSDI application is when you appear before the ALJ. Everything up to that point is done by phone and mail, everything after the hearing is done the same way. The only time you can talk to the decision maker in person is at the hearing.

The key to any ALJ hearing is preparation. As soon as you are notified of your hearing you contact your attorney or representative to make sure they are up to date on your medical treatment. You should make sure that your medical providers are all in agreement on your eligibility for this assistance and that they are cooperating with your attorney by sending records and reports.

While the hearing is supposed to be informal, each ALJ has a lot of discretion as to how they conduct their hearings. You will be under oath and the hearing testimony will be recorded. Often the ALJ will bring in a vocational expert or a medical advisor to help them reach a decision.

Your attorney should prepare you before the hearing. Some experienced attorneys prefer to prepare the day of the hearing; others some time earlier. The preparation should include a description of the issues in your case and a review of the questions that will be asked.

Hearing styles vary per Judge. Some Judges ask every question and the attorney very few. Some Judges ask very little and have the representative develop the testimony. As long as you get a chance to talk about your symptoms and your limitations it does not matter who asks the questions.

Regardless of who asks the questions remember that you are there to convince the ALJ of the severity of your medical symptoms.
The ALJ will know the record – the issue will not be about the diagnosis. In most cases the issue is how severe are your symptoms and how do they impact your day-to-day life.

Be prepared to share with the ALJ just how severely your functioning has been impacted by your medical symptoms.

Do not over dress and do not over medicate – you should be yourself at the hearing. This is not a test of sophistication or intelligence, it is a discussion of your life.

Rarely will an ALJ tell you the decision at the hearing. It comes in writing and that can take several months depending on Social Security’s staffing and backlogs. Sometimes, depending upon the hearing, an experienced attorney will have some idea of the most likely outcome.

Remember, the key is preparation ahead of time, and complete openenss and honesty during your testimony

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