If you've been repeatedly denied Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits and have been anxiously awaiting your hearing in front of the administrative law judge (ALJ), you may be nervous about what is going to happen when you finally get there.
Here's what you can expect.
The Hearings Are Private
You don't have to worry about discussing your personal business in front of a lot of strangers. Typically, hearings are held in conference rooms, not courtrooms (although some hearings are held via remote video when a claimant is unable to physically attend otherwise). While there will be a judge, a court reporter, the SSA's vocational expert, your Social Security Disability law attorney, and a few other important people in the room, hearings are not open to the public.
The ALJ Will Address You Directly
Unlike the trials you have probably see on television where all the questions are asked by attorneys, hearings are a little less formal. More than likely, the ALJ will ask you questions directly. This is your one opportunity to really convey to the judge exactly how your condition limits your life and your ability to work.
When the ALJ questions you, it's important to remember the following things:
- Don't exaggerate. For example, if the judge asks about your pain, remember that even people with chronic pain have good days and bad days.
- Don't minimize. It's equally bad to present a "stiff upper lip" when you're talking about your condition and how it has negatively affected you, even if you find it slightly embarrassing. For example, if you're no longer able to shower yourself or dress without help, say so.
- Don't meander. Give clear, concise answers to questions and focus on what's important to get across. For example, if the ALJ asks why you can't work, don't explain how your employer laid you off and that you can't find anyone else to hire you. Focus on your condition and symptoms.
An experienced Social Security attorney can help you prepare what you want to say ahead of time, which can make it easier to pick out what you want to say.
Much Of Your Case Will Be Presented In Writing
Well before you actually get the hearing, your attorney can prepare a summary argument and organize supporting evidence for the ALJ to see in support of your application for benefits. Don't be surprised at how short the actual hearing itself may be -- and don't be alarmed. The ALJ will have all the evidence to consider.
You Won't Hear The Decision Right Away
It can take several months before you find out what the ALJ has decided. You and your attorney will be notified by mail when the decision has been made.
For more information about what to expect in your case, talk an attorney about Social Security Disability law today.