small judge gavel placed on table near folders

There are a variety of reasons why a person may need Social Security Disability benefits. When a person becomes disabled and that disability is expected to prevent them from being gainfully employed for a year or more, that person can qualify for these benefits. Unfortunately, most people are initially denied these benefits.

Upon the first denial, individuals can request an appeal where another party will review their application. If they are denied again, they can request a hearing to have their case reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge. This process requires some preparation to ensure the judge has all the information needed to provide a fair decision on the case.

Hire an Attorney

It is strongly recommended that individuals hire an attorney before their Social Security Disability hearing. An attorney can assist in all the preparation needed before this date. At Hankey Law Office, individuals can find legal guidance to help them navigate the entire Social Security Disability process.

An attorney can assist individuals from the start of their disability claim and throughout the appeals process. Even if an attorney was not used during the initial application, individuals can still request their assistance with a hearing. This ensures that the process is properly completed and free of errors. It also helps to protect the rights of the individual and ensure a fair hearing.

Gather Medical Records

The Social Security Administration will still have any medical records that have been previously submitted. Individuals will not need to provide those documents again. However, it may be a good idea to get another copy for personal use when preparing for the hearing.

It will be important, however, to gather any new records. If there have been doctor’s appointments or treatments since the last review, these records will be necessary to prove the continued disability being faced.

Once a date has been assigned for a hearing, individuals will need to begin gathering this information. In most cases, these records must be submitted at least 5 business days before the hearing. Be certain to contact all facilities where medical treatment was provided to have copies sent to the SSA and a copy for personal records.

Expert Opinions

Other documentation that will help to prove a disability is to have expert opinion statements submitted on the disabled person’s behalf. Each doctor, therapist, or medical professional that has a part in the treatment for the disability can provide a statement for the hearing.

If the primary care physician or other medical professional has not already done so, it is important to have them submit a statement that details the disability and how it affects the patient. They should also complete a Residual Functional Capacity report form.

If these medical care professionals have already made statements or completed these forms in the past, it may be a good idea to have them complete them again. This will allow them to provide any new symptoms or updates on the disability. It can even help to prove that the disability is continuing without improvement.

Professional Statements

Professional statements are also beneficial to this hearing. These statements should come from former employers or even coworkers. These can have an impact on the case and help a judge see exactly how the disability has impacted the individual’s ability to perform a job.

These individuals should provide a detailed yet brief statement concerning how the disability interfered with the job. Missed days, leaving early, extra breaks, or even needing assistance completing tasks are important aspects to include in this statement. For each individual completing the statement, their letters should be notarized before sending them to the judge.

Personal Statements

Another type of statement that may be beneficial for a disability hearing is statements from family and friends. These are individuals that have insight into how the disability affects this person’s daily life. Any personal caregivers or individuals that provide assistance with daily chores should also provide statements.

These letters, the same as professional statements, should be detailed but brief. The statement should also be notarized. These statements should provide any details witnessed that show the various ways the disability has impacted this person. It should also provide details about any assistance or help that a family member, friend, or caregiver has given the disabled person.

Know the Case

Those applying for disability and awaiting a hearing have a right to all the information the Social Security Administration has concerning the case. Those preparing for a hearing should request the entire case file. This, along with copies of any new information, will provide a complete look at the information the judge will use to consider the case.

It is important for individuals to review their entire case file. This can help identify missing medical records or mistakes made by the claims examiner. Knowing this information will allow the individual to gather missing records or take steps to correct any mistakes in the file.

This file can be very beneficial in helping individuals understand why they were denied. Often, these records will have notes and information from the decision that may not have been provided in the denial statements. This gives the applicant time to prepare an argument for any reasoning for the denial.

If an attorney is assisting with the case, the attorney should be given a copy of this file. They may be able to review it and find other missing information or mistakes that were missed by the applicant. They may even be able to provide easier or more effective methods for correcting these issues.

How the Disability Prevents Working

Applicants must keep in mind that the entire reason for applying for Social Security Disability benefits is due to the fact that their disability is preventing them from obtaining or holding gainful employment. This is what must be proven at the hearing.

This makes it vitally important to be prepared with the reasons why the applicant is unable to work. The applicant must be prepared to state why they cannot work at their previous jobs or any other job available due to their condition.

This must be a detailed reason. To help with this, it is best to break it down into specific aspects of the job. For example, explain why going to work at a specific time five times a week is difficult or impossible. Next, explain why staying at the job for at least eight hours every day cannot be accomplished.

The applicant should make a list of the reasons why they cannot work even a simpler position than they previously held or why accommodations at work cannot be made. For example, on a good day, staying out of bed, sitting, or even standing for more than a certain amount of time can be impossible without excessive breaks.

The applicant should express the difficulties of working on their best days. They should also provide information on how a bad day looks for them. For example, on bad days, the pain may be so bad that they have to avoid working. If that is likely to occur so many times that it prevents full-time employment, it could be significant for the case.

Take Notes

It can be impossible to remember every detail that needs to be explained during the hearing. This is often due to being nervous about the process or even the direction of the proceedings lead the individual away from the topic. When pertinent information is left out of the hearing, it could have a negative impact on the outcome.

Taking notes or creating cheat sheets can be helpful during the hearing. These notes do not have to be a prepared speech that contains every detail. They should consist of specific pieces of information that the individual feels the judge should be aware of.

Bringing this information will ensure that the individual does not forget what needs to be said. It can also help them to feel more prepared for the process and ease some of the nervousness they may feel about the process.

Practice

If the applicant has an attorney, they will review most of the information about the case in advance. They may even go over some pertinent questions so that the individual is ready with an answer. Having this practice run with an attorney can help ease the concerns and nervousness about the process.

If planning to go to the hearing alone, individuals should seek the assistance of a friend to help review the information being presented. Role-playing with people the individual is familiar with will help them prepare and feel more comfortable when facing the judge.

Being nervous about this hearing is only natural. The decision that comes from this process will have a major impact on the disabled person’s life. However, this process will not be an aggressive situation. The judge is neutral and will simply ask questions to get to the facts of the case. There will not be another person arguing against you during this hearing. It is simply a fact-finding hearing.

Although hiring an attorney is recommended and can help minimize mistakes in the process, it is not a requirement. Individuals represent themselves successfully all the time. Even if the Administrative Law Judge decides against benefits, individuals are able to appeal that decision.

By Erica Buteau

Change Agent. Daydream Believer. Maker. Creative. Likes love, peace and Jeeping. Dislikes winter, paper cuts and war. She/Her/Hers.

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