Part 1 of 3.
If you are preparing for your Social Security Disability Hearing, here is what you should know.
A Social Security disability hearing is supposed to be an informal hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. Proper preparation for the hearing must begin at least 75 days in advance. The office handling your case is the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). It is important that you stay in contact with this office and contact them to get a copy of your hearing file.
By law, OHO is required to give you a 75 day written notice of your hearing date. https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/hallex/I-02/I-2-3-25.html.
This notice is important because it will include the date, time and location of your hearing. The SSA Hearing notice will also outline:
- Things you need to bring
- What to do if you cannot attend your scheduled hearing
- Submitting more evidence or informing SSA about more evidence prior to the hearing (5-day rule)
- The issues the Judge will consider
- What expert witnesses will be in attendance at your hearing
- How to file an objection
- Your right to request a Subpoena
- General outline of what happens at a hearing
- Travel cost reimbursements
- How you will receive your decision
- The name of your Administrative Law Judge
- Acknowledgement that you received your notice of hearing
If you are not represented by an attorney, it is important that you return the Acknowledgment letter telling the Judge that you plan on being present for the hearing. If you do not return the form the Judge may presume you will not be present.
It is my strong recommendation that you are represented by an experienced Social Security attorney in your hearing. An experienced attorney can help walk you through the process and help complete your SSA file.
First: Order missing medical records
One of the most important factors in preparing for your hearing is getting a copy of your Social Security file. Most of the time, OHO will mail you a copy of your file on a CD-ROM. If you do not have a copy of your file, contact OHO immediately after you receive your notice of hearing to request a copy of your file. Once you receive the CD-ROM file, then open the CD and review the “Medical Record” section of your file. This section of your file will be listed as “F exhibits” which is marked with a number and the letter “F” (I.e., 1F, 2F, 3F, etc.). The F section is a list of the medical records that SSA/OHO currently has in your file.
The medical records exhibits will give a description, source and date of the medical records OHO has in its possession. It is imperative that any missing medical records are either ordered by you (or your attorney) immediately. In many cases, photocopies of your medical records can take 14 days to 60 days plus to receive from your medical provider, after your order them. In most cases, SSA has not ordered any medical records on your case since your last denial. In many places around the country that is at least a year or more of missing medical records.
Once you receive your medical records you should make sure that all your records are turned into OHO at least 5 full business days before your hearing.
Note: An experienced attorney’s office will help review your file with you and will help order the medical records on your behalf.
Second: Review your file
The Judge will be reading your file closely. You should read your own medical records to get familiar with what your Doctors are saying about you on paper. Your medical records will outline your diagnosis, symptoms, medical testing, medical history, etc., The Judge will base many of their questions at the hearing around what they read in your medical records.
In some cases, your medical doctors will add in additional information about your life. Sometimes, doctors will make note of any vacations, traveling, life changes, hobbies you are doing, drugs or alcohol abuse, etc. When you are reading your medical records you need to make note of these types of statements by your medical doctor to best prepare for responses to the Judges questions.
The Judge might ask, “With all the symptoms you’re experiencing, how were you able to go fishing? Or Travel out of state?”
Note: An experienced attorney will review your medical records for your, point out any questions that might catch the attention of the Judge that you are going to be in front of.
Third: Doctors Opinion
Spend time consulting with your treating doctors. If you have a doctor who is willing to help support your claim then you should ask them to write a letter supporting your disability. The letter should outline who they are and how long they have been treating you. The medical doctors supporting letter should outline your diagnosis, the basis of diagnosis and prognosis. In addition to this information, the letter should outline your maximum physical capacity (ability to sit, stand, walk and lift) or medical capacity (ability to remember, understand or apply information, interact with others, concentrate and mange oneself).
The doctor should reference his/her medical records in forming these opinions and if they can give their opinion on how this may affect your ability to show up to work on a full-time basis.
Note: Most experienced attorneys will have specially designed questionnaires that can stream line these letters. These questionnaires help streamline the doctors opinion in an easier format for the doctors.
Fourth: Review your work history and Prior SSA Forms
Once you have opened your file, you should look at all the prior forms you have filled out during the process. One of the most important forms is your work history form (usually in the “E” section). This form will likely have your handwriting on it and hopefully was filled out correctly by you.
One element of proving disability is that you need to prove you cannot do your past relevant work (all the work you have done in the past 15 years). If you did not fill this form out, you need to review your detailed earnings query (Usually in the “D” section). The earnings query is a document from SSA that outlines your prior employment. It lists your employer, the years you worked there and how much money you made at such employer.
Note: An attorney’s office should provide you with these documents in preparation for your hearing.
Fifth: Why Can’t you work?
You need to prepare to answer the question of why can’t you work? It is by far the most popular question that is asked by a Judge and difficult to answer if you do not prepare for the answer. The best way to prepare is to write down your diagnosis and symptoms. Place these diagnosis in order from worst to best as well as your symptoms (worst to best).
When the Judge outlines why can’t you work you should tell the Judge about your symptoms and the frequency that you have those symptoms.