How To Prepare For Your Disability Hearing

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Allsup explains what to expect at hearing for Social Security disability benefits

Many Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants must wait more than a year before an in-person hearing is scheduled with an administrative law judge. During this wait, it’s not uncommon to have many questions or concerns about what to expect and what to say at the SSDI hearing. One of the most important steps SSDI claimants can take is to secure a representative to attend the hearing with them, according to Allsup, a leading Social Security disability representation company that has helped thousands of people to receive their benefits.

The national average wait time is about 400 days, with some SSDI claimants waiting as long as 500 or more days for their claims to go before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The Social Security Administration ended fiscal year 2010 with more than 700,000 claimants waiting for a hearing for their disability benefits. SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program that taxpayers and their employers fund through payroll taxes. Social Security disability benefits provide monthly income to those who have experienced a severe disability and can no longer work for 12 months or longer, or who have a terminal condition.

The following are a selection of tips from Allsup to help SSDI claimants prepare for their hearings.

Study Your Map & Get There On Time
After you receive your hearing date, make sure you know where the hearing will be held. This seems like simple advice. But some people don’t take the time to study their map or program their GPS system to learn where the hearing will be held until it’s too late. Judges are on a tight schedule. Claimants risk seeing their hearing rescheduled even though they were only a few minutes late, which can be a significant setback to your claim. Unless you live far from the hearing site, be on the safe side and drive to the hearing office at a similar time of day to become familiar with the route, traffic conditions and parking options.

Know What’s In Your File
It’s important to be aware of the contents of your SSDI file for your disability appeal. This may not be so important if you have a representative, but it’s critical if you don’t. You must be aware of the file’s contents so you can respond to what has been recorded about your medical records, work history and other information. Be sure to bring updated medical records to the hearing office. Because a hearing may not take place for two or more years after the initial claim, and the SSA stops gathering medical evidence during this time, it’s possible your file may not have the latest medical information. If you have a representative, your representative should be handling the task of providing medical updates. Start gathering all medical updates as soon as you receive a hearing date.

At the Hearing
You don’t have to attend the hearing for your disability appeal. However, your odds of being approved for SSDI benefits will suffer significantly if you do not attend in person. It may be possible to avoid a hearing altogether if you work with a representative such as Allsup to present your claim for an “on-the-record” decision, meaning based on the medical documentation without an in-person hearing.

Also, if you don’t have representation and you don’t show up for the hearing, the judge can reschedule the hearing or, even worse, dismiss the case. There is a significant risk you would have to start from the beginning with your claim for benefits, which could add many more months to your wait.

The ALJ may reschedule if you can’t make it to the hearing for a serious reason such as a death in the family, a serious illness or unavailability of a key witness. Family members can accompany you to the hearing for support, but the judge might not allow them into the hearing room. Witnesses, however, can help you justify the validity of your claim. Although spouses and members of your family sometimes serve as witnesses, this usually isn’t the case. It’s more common for witnesses to be unrelated, such as people you have worked with or medical professionals who can attest to your disability.

Hearing Process & What to Expect
You’ll probably be in a room with the judge, a hearing assistant who will record the proceedings, any witnesses and, if you have one, your SSDI representative. The ALJ also may ask medical or vocational experts to attend and offer their opinions. The medical expert, a doctor, will review your medical records and give his or her opinion about your testimony. The vocational expert will respond to hypothetical questions from the judge about any limitations related to your ability to work.

The ALJ may ask questions about your disability, pain level, and how your disability affects you life. They usually won’t ask technical questions because this information is in your file. When you answer questions, don’t just explain your medical condition. Instead, thoroughly describe how your condition affects your life. For example, tell the judge if you are unable to sit, stand, walk or concentrate. Do not exaggerate your condition.

Following the hearing, it may take several months for the ALJ to render a decision. Many claimants are awarded at the hearing level. But if the claim is denied, claimants still have the option of moving forward with a disability appeal to the Appeals Council.

Individuals with questions about whether they qualify for Social Security disability benefits, or handling their disability appeal, may contact the Allsup Disability Evaluation Center at (800) 279-4357 for a free SSDI evaluation.

Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs more than 700 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit

Rebecca Ray
(800) 854-1418, ext. 65065
Dan Allsup, ext. 65760

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Rebecca Ray
(800) 854-1418 65065
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Dan Allsup
(800) 854-1418 65760
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