Slepian Smith, PLLC

SSDI and SSI: What to expect at your ALJ hearing

If the Social Security Administration, or SSA, denies your initial application for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, there are several levels of review and appeal you can request. The third level is an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge, often called an ALJ. While the thought of a legal proceeding may make you uncomfortable or even afraid, understanding what will happen and thorough preparation will help immensely.

ALJ hearings

“Administrative” in this context refers to something affiliated with a government agency, here the SSA. The SSA schedules and holds an administrative hearing and the administrative law judge is a federal employee who must decide SSDI and SSI cases impartially and according to the law.

ALJ hearings are not as formal as court proceedings, but they are serious legal proceedings in which the claimant submits evidence for consideration, witnesses testify and the ALJ and your lawyer can ask questions.

Legal representation a plus

It is helpful to have an attorney represent you at the hearing. Your lawyer will prepare you for what will happen and the likely topics you may be asked about. You will likely testify about your impairments, their symptoms and how they impact your daily activities as well as your ability to work.

Your lawyer may decide to ask a family member or friend to testify about their observations of how your disabilities limit you. For example, they may testify about what they see you physically do or what you cannot do as well as what activities bring on severe symptoms.

Your witnesses may also talk about how mental impairments are manifest. For example, do you show confusion or have problems remembering things?

SSA witnesses

The SSA may call a medical expert to answer questions about your impairments. You lawyer can also ask questions, which might target whether the medical witness has training and experience treating your particular impairments.

The SSA also may call a vocational expert, called a VE, to give their opinion about whether your impairments prevent you from working any jobs in significant numbers in the national economy. Again, your legal counsel may also question the VE to reveal whether they are qualified and whether they are using reliable, up-to-date data on which to base their opinions.

In addition, is the VE considering all your symptoms and medical limitations plus other vocational factors like age, education level and skills? Is the VE considering any mental impairments you have as well as subjective complaints like pain or fatigue?

Remember, the face-to-face hearing is an opportunity to tell your story in person, filling in the detail needed to show how difficult your impairments make your ability to function and work. Your attorney will help you thoroughly prepare and will be there to develop the record in your favor.

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