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Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing

You have been waiting for many months for your chance to have a Social Security judge decide your claim. You’ve been denied twice and appealed each determination. Up to this point, you really haven’t had an opportunity to explain to a real, live human being why you are unable to work. Finally, the day arrives when you have your chance to tell your story to a judge.

If you have an experienced attorney representing you, you should be very well prepared for your hearing. Your attorney will have provided Social Security with all of the relevant medical records to support your disability claim. In addition, your attorney may have obtained reports or forms from your treating providers which address specific disabling conditions or your ability to perform specific physical activities.

An experienced attorney will meet with you before the hearing to explain the process and what you can expect at the hearing. Every Social Security judge conducts hearings in a slightly different fashion, so it’s important that you are prepared for a variety of possible hearing procedures. Some judges like to ask all the questions and then allow your attorney to follow up with anything additional. Other judges may turn the hearing over to your attorney right from the outset and have your attorney ask all of the questions.

There may be a medical expert, a vocational expert, or both at the hearing. It will be your attorney’s job to question these experts as necessary following their testimony. Either of these experts may also ask you a few questions to clarify your testimony or to provide them with additional background information about you and your claim.

At our office, we typically meet with you in advance of the hearing and provide you with a general outline of the questions you can expect to be asked either by the judge or by me. You will also be provided with a summary of what is contained in the medical records so that your recollection of your medical care and treatment is fresh for your testimony.

Preparation is important because it is comforting to understand the process of the hearing and what type of questions you will be asked. It’s just as important to understand the types of things you will not be asked or things that the judge is not interested in. A hearing typically lasts only an hour or less, so we don’t want to waste the judge’s time with irrelevant or repetitive information. On the other hand, we certainly want to make sure that we provide the judge with all of the important information he or she needs to decide your claim favorably.

Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure to testify truthfully and honestly. Social Security judges have heard thousands of people testify about pain and disabling conditions. If the judge suspects that you are exaggerating your symptoms or if you testify about medical problems which do not appear in your medical records, you lose all credibility and will probably lose your claim.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices for your absolutely free consultation. We have been handling Social Security disability claims all across northern Minnesota for 30 years and are always happy to discuss your case at any stage of the claim process. We can discuss your claim over the phone or arrange for a meeting in our office.

If you have other questions about Social Security disability claims, you can visit our website where we have a list of common questions and answers, including:

1. What are Social Security disability benefits?
2. How much will I receive if Social Security decides I’m disabled?
3. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
4. What do I do if my claim is denied?
5. When should I hire a lawyer to represent me?
6. How do I pay a lawyer in a Social Security disability case?

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Why is there a Vocational Expert at my Social Security Disability Hearing?

If you have recently been through, or are getting ready for, a Social Security disability hearing, this may be one of the questions you have.  You may have received a notice about your hearing, telling you that there will be a Vocational Expert (VE) present at the hearing.  Some of the questions you might have are:

What is a vocational expert (VE)?

A vocational expert is a person who has experience and knowledge in the areas of jobs, job skills, job placement, labor markets, employment opportunities and similar matters. Ideally, the vocational expert testifying at a Social Security disability hearing would be a professional who spends a significant portion of time working to assist people in finding competitive employment in the workplace. Presumably, this would give the VE practical and reliable experience in assessing the availability of jobs and how they are performed in the workplace. The person who serves as VE at your hearing has been hired by the Social Security Administration as an “expert” to provide testimony on those issues in response to questions from the judge.

What does the vocational expert know about my situation?

The VE will review your Social Security file before the hearing to learn about your previous work experience. She will evaluate the jobs you have performed and classify your past employment in terms of skill levels and physical requirements. The vocational expert is almost always present at the hearing and will listen to your testimony to get additional information. On a rare occasion, at least in my experience, a vocational expert will not be present at the hearing and will be joined in on a conference call to answer questions from the judge.

What does the vocational expert do at my hearing?

After you have answered questions by the judge and your attorney or representative, the judge will then have a number of questions for the vocational expert. (At some hearings, there will also be a medical expert present to offer testimony, but that’s the subject for another post).

The judge may ask the VE if she has any additional questions for you to clarify your employment history or some of the jobs you have previously performed. The judge will ask the VE to describe your previous employment in terms of skills and physical requirements. After that, the judge will usually ask the VE a series of hypothetical questions, based upon your claimed disabilities and limitations.

The VE will offer opinions about whether you are able to return to any of your previous jobs or whether you can perform other jobs which exist in significant numbers within the regional or national economy. Depending upon what physical restrictions and limitations the judge is using, the vocational expert’s opinions will usually make the difference in whether you win or lose your claim. For a more detailed explanation about how the judge determines if you are disabled, please see this earlier post

Can I or my attorney ask the VE questions?

Yes. After the VE finishes answering the judge’s questions, you or your attorney may ask the VE additional questions (this is called “cross examination”).

Summary

This was a very short and generalized explanation of what a vocational expert is and does. Every Social Security disability claim is different, because every claim is based upon the specific facts and circumstances of your life. Each case is based upon a unique mixture of medical information, disabling conditions, educational backgrounds and work histories. Hopefully, this will give you a basic understanding of the vocational expert’s role in your Social Security disability hearing.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation. Thank you for visiting our blog.

What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?

If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits and are reading this article, then your claim has probably been denied. If that’s the case, you are definitely in the majority, because most disability claims are initially denied.

After receiving your initial denial, you may have already requested a reconsideration and been denied again. Now it’s time to request a hearing, which will be held before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (referred to as an ALJ).  So what happens at one of these hearings?

First of all, you should understand that yours will be only one of several hearings that the Administrative Law Judge will hear that day.  Therefore, the hearings are relatively brief, typically lasting one hour or less.

Where Will the Hearing Be Held?  For claims here in northern Minnesota, hearings are generally held at the Federal Courthouse in Duluth. There may be some exceptions where your hearing is scheduled for Minneapolis, Bemidji or some other location, depending on where you live.  Until just recently, hearings were also held in Hibbing.  The hearing may be held in the presence of a “live”  ALJ, or, by videoconference. Presently, many of the northern Minnesota hearings are being held by videoconferences conducted by judges out of the St. Louis Social Security office.

What Happens at a Hearing?  The judge and your representative will discuss some preliminary matters, such as when you are claiming that you became disabled and what medical exhibits and other evidence are in the hearing record.  The Judge will then ask you some questions about your employment history, the nature and extent of your disabling conditions, your medical treatment and your typical daily activities.  When the judge has completed his or her examination, your representative will then have the opportunity to ask you some additional questions to supplement or clarify any of the issues in your case.

Who Else Is Present at a Hearing?  Whether the judge is in the courtroom or appearing by videoconference, the other persons typically participating in a hearing will be you, your representative, sometimes a vocational expert and sometimes a medical expert.  Some judges always have medical or vocational experts, or both, at the hearings.  Each judge has his or her particular preference, so there may or may not be experts present at your particular hearing. Once your testimony is finished,  the vocational and/or medical experts will provide testimony in response to questions from the judge and your representative. Their testimony will deal with your functional limitations, medical impairments, employment history and ability to perform particular jobs or types of employment.

When Will You Get a Decision?  Sometimes, the judge will issue a favorable decision during or at the conclusion of your hearing.  Or, the judge may offer you a “deal”,  by determining that you are disabled in exchange for you changing your claimed disability date.  If that happens, your representative can explain your options and advise you whether you should accept any proposed deal from the judge.  Usually, however, you’ll have to wait for a written decision, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

What Can Bradt Law Offices Do for You?  If we represent you in a Social Security disability claim, there are a number of things we will do for you.  We will gather your medical records and submit them to Social Security to make sure that all relevant and available records are considered in your disability claim.  We may also ask your doctors for specific reports or disability forms that we can submit as well.  We will meet with you before the hearing and provide you with an outline of the types of questions you may be asked at the hearing and prepare you to respond to those questions.

We appear with you at the hearing, make sure that you understand your claim and the process, answer any questions the judge might have about the claim and cross-examine the medical or vocational witnesses on your behalf.  Finally, we only get paid if we win.  Our fees are 25% of any back pay you receive if you are found to be disabled.  We don’t receive any percentage of your ongoing or future benefits.

If you have any questions about a pending claim, or if you are simply considering whether to file for Social Security disability benefits, please feel free to contact us for your free consultation. We are always happy to review your claim and give you our honest opinion about your chance of success.

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