Not Your Average People’s Court:
Disability Hearings are less formal hearings than seen on TV. Most hearings take place in office settings, hotels and even banks. The judge leads the hearing with an assistant clerk that records information. Sometimes a medical expert (ME) and/or a vocational expert (VE) is present.
What to Expect?
During the hearing, everyone is seated around a table. Witnesses often wait outside until needed.
The Judge first addresses any concerns and makes sure you understand the proceeding before swearing you in. Next, the judge asks questions about your daily activities. Some examples may include:
- “Do you do your own laundry?”
- “Do you shop?”
- “Do you cook?”
All questions will describe your physical ability given your restrictions. The judge looks for action that can be translated directly into the workplace. For example: Washing clothes includes motion such as bending and lifting which can be translated into work activity such as moving boxes or stacking shelves. Even simple activities such as, sitting and watching TV could translate into sitting at a desk for an office job.
Sequential Evaluation Process
The judge looks for information to apply to a formula called the “Sequential Evaluation Process.” 5 questions are asked in any order. If it is determined that a client is not disabled, the evaluation stops. A person can only win at question 3 or 5.
- Are you working?
Note: Work is defined as “substantial gainful activity,” meaning that physical or mental activity is performed for pay. If yes, the evaluation stops. You are not disabled.
- Is the impairment severe?
Note: Severity means the impairment will last at least 12 months or result in death? If yes, the evaluation continues.
- Does your impairment meet the Social Security Administration (SSA) requirements?
Note: This represents your first chance to win. SSA maintains a list of 14 impairments and the evidence required to prove disability. The standard is high, but if medical evidence exists, you win!
- Considering your RFC are you able to return to your past relevant work?
Note: RFC is a fancy way of analyzing what you are able to do in spite of your limitations (i.e. cooking, cleaning, driving, walking, etc. ) Judges will consider your physician’s opinion when making a RFC determination.
A vocational expert (VE) may give an opinion using a description of your past work, along with the skill level.
If no, you go on to question 5.
- Considering your age, education, and work experience, is there any other job readily available?
Note: This is the second chance to win. The SSA must prove that such other jobs exist. The judge will asks the VE if a person “like you” with your limitations can perform any job.
Most often, the VE will find jobs such as a thread spooler, tea leaf reader, nut bolt sorter, or wafer breaker. Your attorney can then address the expert, adding restrictions that have not been recognized.
If the answer to question 5 is no, you win!