Justin S. Raines
What should I do before my disability hearing?
Your Social Security disability hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) is the most important appeal in the Social Security disability application and appeals process. You have the best chance of winning at the hearing. About half of disability hearings are awarded benefits.
The hearing is when most people obtain an attorney or other representative. In fact, about 90% of people are represented by a disability lawyer or other representative at their ALJ hearings.
You should obtain updated medical records and submit them at least five days before the hearing.
By the time a hearing is scheduled, up to a year or more will have passed since you filed your requests for hearing. Unfortunately, SSA policy does not usually require the ALJ to order your updated medical or psychological records. If you have an attorney, your attorney will help you obtain your updated medical or psychological records.
You must submit an update with your current medications, current treating providers, and work history at least five days before the hearing.
The ALJ will provide the forms that you need to use when your hearing is scheduled. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer will help you complete the required forms and submit them to the ALJ.
You should provide the ALJ with treating medical opinions about your severe impairments.
You should request medical opinions from your treating providers that know your severe physical or mental impairments the best. These opinions are called medical source statements (MSS).
Unfortunately, short statements from a doctor are not given much weight. Neither are statements to the effect that a person is disabled or cannot work. Instead, you should obtain a detailed opinion about your limitations so that the ALJ may decide how they affect your ability to work.
The easiest way to get a detailed MSS from a treating provider is by giving the provider a detailed questionnaire. If you have a disability attorney, your attorney can provide you with the right questionnaire for your physical or mental impairments. Your attorney may also request an opinion from your treating providers directly.
What if I have not received treatment for my mental or physical illness or injury?
If you have not received treatment for your physical or mental illness or injury, you should request a consultative examination (CE) as soon as you file your request your hearing. A CE is a one-time visit with a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other acceptable medical source.
The CE provider will give you a physical or mental examination or a specific test or tests. The CE provider will not give you medications or other treatment. Usually, the CE provider will also give an opinion about your diagnoses and functional limitations.
CEs can be invaluable in cases where the claimant does not have sufficient medical, psychological, or other evidence from a treating provider to prove the claimant's disability case. They are no substitute for getting treatment. But if you have been unable to get treatment, having a CE is better than having no medical or other evidence at all.
How should I dress for the ALJ hearing?
You should dress nicely enough at the hearing to show the ALJ that you take the process seriously. You don’t need to buy new clothes for your hearing. You don’t need to wear a tie or suit.
You should arrive for your ALJ hearing at least thirty minutes early. If you have a lawyer, you should meet before the day of the hearing and for a few minutes on the day of the hearing before the hearing begins.
If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.