What to Expect at a Social Security Disability/SSI Administrative Law Judge Hearing
An Administrative Law Judge Hearing for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) can be a very stressful event. For most individuals, you have already been waiting two or more years since you initially applied for Social Security disability benefits before your hearing is held. You have already been denied benefits at least once, and it has been multiple years since you have been able to work. Most likely, you have spent most (if not all) of your savings, and you have had to rely on friends and family members for support to help you survive.
The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Hearing may be the most important event in determining your future. Although additional appeals are available if you are denied at the ALJ hearing, only a small portion of people that appeal ALJ denials are ultimately approved. Depending on how long you have been out of work already, it may even be your last chance for being approved for Social Security disability benefits.
The first thing I advise my clients after the ALJ hearing is scheduled, is “take a deep breath and relax”. Although the outcome of the hearing is extremely important, your preparation for the hearing is more important than the actual hearing. The Social Security disability process is not supposed be adversarial, and the main purpose of the hearing is to provide the Judge with additional relevant information so your claim can be decided.
Although the hearings are described as “informal”, there is still a structure to them. It is important that you treat the Judge and any experts called to testify with respect. Each Judge has his/her own unique style, and they conduct the hearings in different ways. The information in this series provides you with a general overview of what to expect when your ALJ hearing is scheduled.
Since there are so many aspects to cover about ALJ hearings, I have separated this series into 4 posts. The first post will focus on what to do to prepare for the ALJ hearing once it is scheduled. The next post will focus on a description of what to expect on the day of your hearing and who will be present during your ALJ hearing. The third post will describe what to expect during the actual hearing, and what types of information you will be asked to provide. The final post will provide tips to make the most out of your ALJ hearing.
Part 1. My ALJ Hearing was Scheduled, Now What?
The most important thing that you can do to have a successful ALJ hearing, is be prepared prior to the hearing. It helps to be represented by an attorney for a hearing because an attorney knows what must be proved, and has knowledge of what the Judge expects. The most important aspect of my representation at an ALJ hearing, is keeping the Judge happy before the hearing even starts. Below is a list of steps to take to make the ALJ hearing process meaningful for both you and the Judge.
- Know what evidence is in your Social Security Administrative File. Review your Social Security file and determine what medical records are missing. (I obtain a copy of the Social Security File for my clients and make this determination. A copy of your file can be obtained once your request for a hearing is submitted. Contact your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for instructions on obtaining your file).
- Request any records from your doctors that are relevant to your disability and are not currently in your Social Security file. It is important to have information about all treatment you have received since your disability began. The Social Security File will have all information that the Social Security Administration was able to obtain through the date of your last denial.
- Submit new medical records that you obtain to the Judge before your scheduled hearing. (Remove any records that are already present in your Social Security file.) It is best to submit all new records to the Judge at least 15 days prior to your scheduled ALJ hearing. If you have an electronic file, the Social Security Administration will provide you with a barcode that you can use to fax your records to the Judge.
- Provide the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review updated information about all of your treatment. Include the dates that you have seen each doctor and the treatment they have provided. Use Social Security Form HA-4631 to provide this information.
- Provide a detailed medication list to the Judge. List all prescriptions that you are taking, the dosage prescribed, the frequency you take the medication, who prescribed it, and why you are prescribed the medication. It is also helpful to let the Judge know how long you have been taking the specific medication. Use Social Security Form HA-4632 to provide the medication information.
- Review the work history forms that you previously submitted to the Social Security Administration. If you have attempted any additional work since you last completed the form, submit detailed information to the Judge about your additional work attempts. Use Social Security Form HA-4633 to provide an updated Work History.
- Provide any information regarding any new accident you have been involved in or diagnosis that you have received. Indicate for the Judge the date that the accident occurred, or when you were diagnosed with any new condition. (This information can be provided in Form HA-4631 above).
- Correct problems with your onset date. Review your application to determine the onset date that was used when you applied. If your alleged onset date is not consistent with your medical records, speak to your attorney to determine if the date that you are alleging disability should be changed.
- Obtain detailed information from your treating doctors regarding your limitations. Have conversations with your doctors regarding your ability to perform work, and ask for medical opinion forms to be completed.
- Review information that you previously submitted to the Social Security Administration describing your limitations, and be prepared to answer similar questions during your hearing. If your answers have changed, think about why you are more or less limited than you were when you previously completed the questionnaires. Make sure you are able to explain any changes to the Judge.
- Know what you are going to be asked during the hearing. I provide my clients with a list of topics that are normally asked during the hearing. It is important that you be prepared to address areas specific to your disability. You should use the time between your hearing being scheduled and the date of the hearing to think about answers for questions you will be asked. (This will be covered in detail in part 3 of the series.)
- Decide if you are going to call witnesses. I usually use witnesses only when they can add information that my client cannot provide directly. Repetitive testimony from friends and family regarding your limitations is not normally helpful. Although I would always like to have a treating physician or therapist testify, usually the cost of doing so is prohibitive. Ask yourself if a witness will be able to add any relevant information that you cannot provide yourself. (If you decide to bring a witness, notify the Judge at least 30 days prior to the hearing.)
Taking these steps prior to the hearing will help the Administrative Law Judge close your Social Security Record at the time of your hearing. By properly preparing your claim, you allow the Judge to quickly resolve any procedural issues, and focus his/her time on questions relevant to your disability. If your record is complete, the Judge will have a more accurate outlook on your impairment and limitations, and be able to issue a decision quicker.
I usually use the information compiled above to submit a pre-hearing brief to the Judge. I meet with my client after the hearing is scheduled, and I review all the topics above. I request all the updated information that is needed, and I resolve any conflicts with my clients. I use the pre-hearing brief to explain my theory of the case to the Judge, and to explain why the evidence supports a favorable decision. I identify any areas that still need to be resolved during the hearing.
The next post in this series will describe what you should do on the day of your hearing, and what to expect when you arrive at the hearing. If you have questions about any of the information provided in this post, please use the comment area below. Since this is a public website, please do not include any information in your question that would personally identify you. Your email address is not publicly viewable when you submit a comment and is only used if I need to directly respond to you.
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. Steven offers free initial consultations for Social Security Disability/SSI claims to residents of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please use the Linarducci & Butler Contact Form or call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.
- Social Security Form HA-4631 – Claimant’s Recent Medical Treatment
- Social Security Form HA-4632 – Claimant’s Medications
- Social Security Form HA-4633 – Claimant’s Work Background
- Linarducci & Butler Medical Opinion Form
- Questions Generally Asked During Social Security ALJ Hearing
- Social Security Best Practices for ALJ Hearing
- Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Hearing Office Locator
- Part II, The Day of Your Social Security Disability Administrative Law Judge Hearing
- Part 3, What Happens During My Social Security Disability/SSI Hearing?
- Part 4, Tips for an Effective Social Security Disability Administrative Law Judge Hearing