The hearing on your disability claim will be held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In the hearing room will be the judge, his or her assistant, and you and your attorney. There may also be a Vocational Expert, who will testify as to what kind of jobs you are or are not able do. And there could also be a Medical Expert who will testify about your medical conditions.
When the hearing starts, your attorney may first make an opening statement, which is essentially a summary of your case. The judge will likely also make some type of statement that will address who is in the room, the facts about your case, and the type of claim you have.
Next, you as well as the vocational and/or medical expert will be questioned under oath. Though the hearing room is not a traditional courtroom, you will be sworn in and must always tell the truth under penalty of perjury. The questioning will be done by either the judge or your attorney. Who does the questioning is up to the judge.
You can expect to answer questions about topics such as:
- Your age and education
- Your past work experience
- Why you stopped working and why you cannot work anymore
- Your symptoms and conditions
- What your daily life is like
- Whether you are able to take care of yourself in terms of bathing, cooking and cleaning
- Doctors you are seeing
- Surgeries and procedures you have had
- Medications you are taking and their side effects
Generally, the vocational and/or medical expert is questioned after you. When the hearing is over, it is possible for the judge to make a “bench decision”. This means that the judge will make a decision right there at the end of the hearing. However, this does not happen very often. Usually, after the hearing is over, you will have to wait 30-90 days until you receive a “Notice of Decision” in the mail. The Notice of Decision will tell you what the judge has decided.
A judge’s decision is based on a variety of factors such as:
- The type of work you used to do
- The condition or conditions you have now
- Your age and education
- The type and quality of medical evidence submitted at the hearing
- Your testimony
- The testimony of the vocational and/or medical expert
These are just some of the basics of what you can expect at a hearing, but they are actually complicated proceedings. It is best to have an experienced attorney at your side, to help you navigate this process. More information can be found at www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearings_process.html.