Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge: What to Expect

The Social Security disability claims process consists of three stages:

  1. Initial Application
  2. Request for Reconsideration
  3. Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge

Unfortunately, the majority of claims are denied in the first two stages. If your claim is denied at the Initial Application stage, as 67% of claims are, you have the opportunity to appeal by filing a Request for Reconsideration. About 89% of claims are then denied at the Request for Reconsideration stage. Although these statistics may seem discouraging, there is another option available to you: step 3 in the process, Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge."Courtroom"

If a hearing is the option you wish to pursue, you must be willing to be patient. In the state of Utah, you will usually wait twelve to sixteen months before you are granted a hearing. In this stage, however, your patience is more likely to pay off: the denial rate in Utah is only 32% for claimants who appear before an Administrative Law Judge.

Neither you nor our office can do much to speed up the 1 year+ waiting period, so your main focus during that time is to continue recovering and seeking medical treatment.

Once the date of your hearing draws closer, our office will work with you and prepare you for the type of questions a judge may ask you. We will help you feel ready to present your story in front of the Administrative Law Judge.

In addition to you, your attorney, and the judge, a Vocational Evaluator (VE) will be present at the hearing. The VE’s job is to review your file and offer their testimony about whether it is possible for you to return to either your past work or to another job in the national economy.

As the hearing begins, the judge will ask you a series of questions related to your work history and medical history. One of the primary things the judge wants to determine is how your conditions keep you from performing basic work-related activities. Your attorney will also have the chance to question you. The judge will then ask the VE a series of questions about your ability to return to the lightest job you held in the past fifteen years.

It is the VE’s responsibility to fairly assess your limitations and consider your testimony about your restrictions. The VE will also consider the job descriptions of your previous, “light” jobs and the exertion requirements listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). This is a crucial moment during the hearing, because if the VE says you can return to one of your previous jobs, your claim will then be denied. The judge will only continue onto the next question if the VE says you cannot return to one of your previous jobs.

In their questioning, the judge wants to be as specific and as close to your actual situation as possible. The judge will likely ask the VE if there is a job in the national economy that a hypothetical person with your restrictions, limitations, age, education, and work skills could do. The judge is trying to determine, in the most straightforward way possible, if you are capable of doing any type of work. If there is any job you can do, regardless of where that job is or whether that company would actually hire you, the VE will name the job. If the VE says, however, that there is not a job you  can do, then you will win your claim.

If the VE names a job or jobs that you could perform, you or your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the VE. This gives you the opportunity to show existing restrictions that were not considered in the hypothetical that prevent you from working the job(s) named by the VE—but these restrictions must be found in your medical records or they cannot help your case.

Throughout the hearing, it is important to be completely transparent with the judge. Do not exaggerate your symptoms, and do not try to make your situation appear worse than it is by using absolutes like “never,” “always,” and “24/7” unless they are completely true.

Our office will help you during your hearing to the best of our ability. We will prepare you to meet with the Administrative Law Judge and help represent you during the hearing. We will cross-examine the VE and personally ask you questions during the hearing that we believe will help you win your case. Call us today at (801) 890-1030 for a free consultation request.

Photo Courtesy of Clyde Robinson and Creative Commons.