Who will be at my social security disability appeal hearing?

If you have an upcoming disability hearing you might be anxious about what to expect. First of all, disability hearings are relatively informal. That is, they are not dramatic adversarial proceedings like anything you may have seen on Law and Order, for example. At a typical hearing, the following individuals will be present: the claimant, an administrative law judge (also known as an "ALJ), a court reporter, and a vocational expert. Of course, if you have representation, your attorney will be present as well. There is no lawyer or other party on the other side trying to disprove your case. This is what is meant by "non adversarial." In fact, social security regulations require that the ALJ function as an impartial arbiter of fact and, in some instances, they have an affirmative obligation to assist claimants (for example, with ensuring a complete medical record.)

What happens at a social security disability appeal hearing

All hearings are recorded, so once the court reporter has indicated that the recording devices are on, the ALJ will announce that the hearing is "on the record" and will proceed to swear in the claimant and the vocational expert. Although disability hearings are informal in nature, they are also under oath. Next, the ALJ will typically ask the claimant's attorney whether there are any objections to the medical evidence in the exhibit file and if the medical record is complete. This is your representatives opportunity to let the judge know if any important medical evidence is missing and if so, to figure out whether the record will be kept open after the hearing to allow for its submission. Typically, the ALJ will then question the claimant. After the ALJ has questioned the claimant, the attorney will have an opportunity to ask follow up questions to make sure the judge has an accurate picture of the claimant's medical situation. Then, the ALJ will usually turn to the vocational expert or "VE." The role of the VE is straightforward: they are there to let the judge know whether there are any jobs a claimant can do based on the limitations the judge assumes to be relevant. After the VE has provided her testimony, the attorney has an opportunity to cross examine her. The goal of this cross examination is typically to elicit testimony from the VE that leads to the conclusion that the claimant is incapable of working at all -- or would be unable to sustain regular employment in light of their impairments. 

How do I prepare for a disability appeal hearing?

The most important element of preparation for a disability appeal hearing is making sure the medical record is complete. What does this mean, exactly? It means reviewing your file and making sure of a couple of things: 1) that every medical provider who has treated you since your disability onset date is represented in the case file; and 2) that the treatment notes are relatively current. Frequently, social security will order medical records when a person files their initial application; but they tend not to follow up when a claim reaches the disability hearing level. For this reason, unless a claimant makes sure that all recent treatment records are ordered, there will often be gaps in the medical record from the time the individual applied until through the date of the hearing. This case seriously weaken an otherwise strong case. If you have an attorney, it is very important to provide them with complete information about your medical treatment so that all your records are in the file at least 5 business days prior to the hearing, which is the deadline for medical evidence submission. 

When is the deadline for submitting medical evidence for disability appeals hearings?

The rules require that all medical evidence be submitted no later than 5 business days prior to your hearing. However, you can get permission to submit evidence later than that -- even after the hearing -- if you have good cause. You must provide notice of any outstanding medical records requests no later than 5 business days prior to your hearing. Doing so will help ensure that you will have an opportunity to submit all relevant evidence, even if your medical providers take a long time in responding to your request for records. 

Can I get my own medical records?

Under New York law, every patient is entitled to a free copy of their medical records, as long as the records are stored electronically by the provider and the individual requests them for the purpose of supporting a disability application or appeal.

My office will only charge a fee if we win your case. And that fee is 25% of any back-pay social security owes you up to a limit of $6,000. The social security administration periodically increases the cap on legal fees; but it is currently set at $6,000.


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