If you have worked and paid into the social security system, you probably have received a social security statement that outlines benefits available to you and your family if you become disabled. According to this statement, if an individual becomes disabled and unable to perform work related duties, the individual may be able to collect disability benefits. But some have found themselves entangled in a web of subsequent filings, denials, and appeals in attempts to obtain disability benefits from social security. It may take several appeals to obtain disability benefits. Do not let fear and frustration deter you from pursuing your disability claim further in the appeals process.
The hearing process is a formal and more involved proceeding in the disability process. A federal administrative law judge (ALJ) conducts the hearing. The ALJ is appointed by and works for the federal government. The administrative law judge may rely on the testimony of vocational and medical experts during proceedings. Appealing a claim at this level can be taxing on an individual. At this point, you have been through hurdles in the process fighting for your disability benefits. Relieve yourself of this burden and obtain legal representation from a qualified social security disability attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable about social security disability law.
Prepare for the Hearing
You have 60 days from the date of your reconsideration denial (in some states, the reconsideration phase is no longer in effect and the hearing process begins after an applicant has been denied at the initial level) to request a hearing. Obtain legal representation from a qualified social security disability attorney and file your appeal immediately. Also, notify social security of any changes in your address. Failure to submit your request for a hearing before the deadline may result in a dismissal of your hearing request. Your attorney should handle filing your appeal and submitting medical evidence to the judge.
Review Your File
Request to review the contents of your file before the hearing. This gives you and your legal team access to peruse the contents of your file to ensure that your file is accurate and updated with the necessary medical and non-medical evidence. Reviewing your file also gives you the advantage of understanding the dynamics of your previous denials so you can effectively dispute your claim before the judge. Social Security also offers an option to review your file on a CD. Consult with your attorney or a social security representative for more information about the CD option to review your file.
Be Present at Your Hearing
At the ALJ level, you have the benefit of face to face communication with the adjudicator. If possible, do not skip the hearing. Take advantage of this person-to-person access with the decision maker. If you are not able to attend the hearing, you must write a letter giving your reasons for not attending the hearing and to ask the ALJ to make a decision based on the evidence in your file. The ALJ may reschedule the hearing if you show good cause. Remember, canceling a hearing causes delays in your claim. Social Security also offers video hearings. A video hearing may be scheduled faster than an in person appearance. Consult with your attorney or a social security representative for more details on a video hearing.
Dress appropriately for the court proceedings and arrive on time. Be prepared and organized. If you have witnesses, make sure that your witnesses are prompt and prepared for the hearing. Stay relaxed and calm. Refrain from displaying hostile behavior at the hearing.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
Be prepared to answer questions about your disability in particular, the aspects of your medical treatment, and how it affects your ability to work in addition to your ability to perform your daily activities. Be knowledgeable regarding your conditions, dates of treatment, and medical sources. Be honest and consistent with the information that you provide about your disability. Do not exaggerate your conditions. Your testimony should be consistent with the medical findings in your file.
It may take six to twenty-four months for a hearing to be scheduled after you submit your request. Take this opportunity to strengthen your claim by obtaining supportive evidence from your treating sources. You are more likely to win your claim with adequate preparation and the proper legal representation. You want an attorney who will present the strong aspects of your claim to overshadow any discredits that the ALJ and the expert panel may present at the hearing. Consult with your attorney periodically before the hearing to make sure that your representative is familiar with the contents of your file and has developed a strategy to win your disability claim.
Tessa Walker is the founder and President of CH Consulting. CH Consulting provides free resources, services and guidance to individuals with disabilities and disability advocates. She earned a Master of Science in Human Services Administration from The University of Baltimore and a bachelor’s in psychology from Towson University. Her passion is helping to spread disability awareness to the public. Where there is a will, there is a way. Ms. Walker’s passion to help others is the “will.” Sharing knowledge is the “way” to educate the public.
Follow Tessa Walker on Twitter: @chconsultingllc
Website: CH Consulting LLC