If you are like the majority of people in San Francisco at this stage, you have been previously denied for benefits and have been waiting anywhere between a year and a half to two years and a half for the opportunity to be able to, in your own words, express your impairment and inability to work. Though the thought of going before a judge may understandably stir up feelings of anxiety, there’s really nothing to be nervous about. The following is an explanation of what you can expect from your hearing.
Where Will The Hearing Be?
Hearings for social security benefits are much less formal than you may think. They are not held in a court room. In fact, hearings often take place in a small room in your local Social Security office, an office building, or even a hotel. The exact address and time of your hearing can be found on the first page of the Notice of Hearing that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will send you no later than 20 days before your hearing.
Who Will Be at the Hearing?
Social security disability hearings are closed hearings; this means that members of the public are not allowed to observe. The only people that will be present at your hearing are:
· your representative,
· the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),
· the ALJ’s assistant, and
· at most, 2 experts. The expert present may either be a Vocational Expert (VE) or a Medical Expert (ME). The ALJ may require that either the VE or ME, both the VE or ME, or in rare cases, neither the VE or ME be present.
What Takes Place at the Hearing?
There are no set rules for how an ALJ must conduct a hearing. However, despite the differences amongst judges, there are a few things that are certain to happen at your hearing.
· The ALJ will begin the proceeding by going over preliminary issues and swearing in all witnesses.
· The ALJ will ask you questions. Your attorney will also have an opportunity to ask you questions, if necessary. Some common questions include:
What is your name, age, and education level?
What type of previous work did you do?
Why did you stop working?
Where is your pain located?
Can you describe the pain?
Do medications take away your pain?
Do you have any side effects from your medications?
What type of daily activities do you partake in?
How long can you sit/stand/walk?
How much can you lift/carry?
· If a ME is present, the ALJ will ask he or she to testify about the severity of your condition. Your representative will have an opportunity to cross examine the ME.
· If a VE is present, the ALJ will ask he or she to testify about your past work and whether he/she believes you are able to return to your past work or any other jobs that exist in the national economy in significant amount.
What Happens After the Hearing?
In very rare cases the ALJ will make and announce his/her decision at the hearing. However, in the majority of cases, you will receive a written decision anywhere between 30 to 90 days after the hearing has taken place, and in some cases, a decision may take even longer.
If you have received a partially favorable decision or an unfavorable decision you may appeal the decision to the Social Security Appeals Council.
Click here for more information on hearings for social security benefits.