Social security hearings are designed to be much less formal than hearings in court. Although this is an informal hearing, there are a couple of procedures that are necessary to follow. All witnesses are required to testify under oath, so each individual who testifies will be asked to raise his/her right hand and take an oath to tell the truth. It is important to remember that, when testifying, the witness cannot look to anyone, including the attorney, to help answer questions. If you don’t understand a question, you can ask that the question be explained or restated, but nobody can answer for you.
The judge will usually begin a disability hearing by discussing the history of your case and the issues that will need to be decided. The judge will then ask some general questions, such as your address, social security number, etc. Next, the judge will ask questions about any jobs you have performed over the past 15 years. This is done to determine whether you could return and do any of these jobs with your current impairments. Next, the judge will usually ask you why you believe you are unable to work. This is your opportunity to explain, in your own words, why you feel that you are unable to work a full time job. When that questioning is done, the judge will usually give your lawyer a chance to ask questions. Occasionally, if a claimant is well prepared to testify, the lawyer does not have to ask any questions at all.
Some judges may prefer to have the lawyer handle most of the questioning. If so, answer questions asked by your lawyer the same way you would answer them if a person you did not know were the one inquiring. Even though your lawyer knows all about your case already, it is important to keep in mind that the judge, who will decide your case, does not. Although the judge will have read your file before the hearing, when you are testifying it is best to assume that the judge knows nothing about your situation.
When you are done testifying, your lawyer will be allowed to question any witnesses you wish to have testify at your hearing. It may be a good idea to bring a witness to your hearing. This witness may testify in support of what you say, give the judge details about your impairments and how they affect you, and/or offer a different perspective on your medical problems. After your witness’s testimony is complete, a doctor or vocational expert may be called by the judge to testify. The vocational expert will be available to answer any questions the judge may have regarding past work and what, if any, jobs an individual could do with your specific restrictions. The medical expert would be available to answer any questions the judge may have regarding your medical conditions.
At the end of the hearing some judges may ask you if you have anything more to say. It is best if you do not try to argue your case at this point — let your lawyer do that. Most judges will give a lawyer the opportunity to make a closing argument either at the end of the hearing, or to be submitted on a later date in writing.
Most judges will not tell you what the decision is at the time of the hearing. The judge will close the hearing and a decision will be issued in writing, which will be mailed to you with a copy to your lawyer. Sometimes it takes quite a while, (at least 4-6 weeks and sometimes longer), for the decision to come out, so it is important to be patient with this sometimes frustrating process.
Ron Fladhammer has over 20 years of experience representing individuals who have been denied Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Our office hosts one of the only video hearing location sites in the state of Illinois, so there is no need to travel to any other location to have your hearing held. Our success rate is outstanding, and if your case is not approved, there are no attorney fees.