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The Three People You Meet At Your Social Security Disability Hearing

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Social Security disability hearings are complicated, and involve several different experts who are critical to your case. Knowing who to expect at your hearing helps you prepare for the process, and makes it easier to understand how your case is decided. With that in mind, these are the three people that you can expect to meet at your Social Security disability hearing.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

The Administrative Law Judge is the person who will ultimately make the decision on your case. This is the only time that you will ever meet the ALJ, so it's important that you focus your attention on him or her. 

Before your hearing, the ALJ will review your Social Security file, which contains all the medical records, work history and other information that you've given Social Security up to this point. He or she will also look at your claim to see why you are denied.

You can absolutely expect that the ALJ will have questions to ask you. A lot depends on how convinced the judge is that you are an honest and credible person. With that in mind:

  • Focus your attention on the exact question. Don't go off topic.
  • Answer each question with no more than a sentence or two. Don't ramble.
  • Be very specific. For example, when describing your pain, use words like "burning" or "throbbing," or whatever terms apply.
  • Be clear about your limitations. Again, specifics help. If asked how far you can walk, a good answer is something like, "I can walk for about 100 feet, and then I have to stop and rest." 
  • Be ready to explain gaps in your medical care. If you were unable to afford treatment, say so. If you thought that you were better for a while, tell the judge. 
  • Be truthful. Many people lose credibility with ALJs when they exaggerate, even a little, so watch what you say. For example, avoid words like "always" or "never" when talking about your limitation. If you have good days, it's okay to tell the ALJ. 

Some ALJs are more sympathetic in nature than others, and some aren't. If you know the name of the ALJ who will be hearing your case, you can look at the statistics involving his or her previous decisions. That can help you gain a sense of what to expect during your hearing. 

The Medical Expert (ME)

Medical experts are doctors hired by Social Security to give testimony about what limitations your disability causes, the severity of your condition, and when you should officially be considered disabled (your onset date). 

It can be frustrating to listen to a doctor that you've never met testify about your medical condition. This doctor will never personally examine you, or treat you. However, you need to remain calm and keep a neutral expression, rather than give the ALJ the impression that you are hostile, or have a chip on your shoulder. Let your attorney decide how to handle any damaging statements made by the ME.

The Vocational Expert (VE)

The vocational expert will be called on to testify about the type of work that Social Security expects you to be able to do, despite your limitations. His or her testimony is highly specific and can be quite complicated.

The ALJ and an attorney (such as one from Ledgerwood Law Group) will likely both have a lot of questions for the VE, often presented as hypothetical work situations. Your attorney will seek to demonstrate that you are not capable of handling the work described by carefully picking apart the VE's testimony.

Understand the role of each person who is present at your hearing and keep in mind that the only person you'll be directly interacting with, other than your attorney, is the ALJ. Nothing you say or do is going to alter the testimony of the ME or VE. Your attorney will use his or her skills, however, to help turn the testimony to your favor.