If you’re scheduled to participate in a Social Security Disability (SSD) appeal hearing after having initially been denied benefits, there are certain types of questions you can reasonably anticipate being asked. The hearing is presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and while you can have an attorney present to represent your interests, the ALJ will actually be the one posing all of the questions throughout the hearing.
He or she will also be asking those questions directly of you and not your attorney. This prospect leaves many SSD applicants a little uneasy, as they’re fearful they won’t be able to provide sufficient answers, and since so much is riding on the hearing outcome, adequate preparation for testifying is advisable.
Having a Social Security attorney on your side that is familiar with the appeal process and knows the questions that are typically posed during a disability hearing can help you tremendously in preparing to appear before the ALJ. It can also make it more likely you’ll have a favorable outcome from the appeal process, finally receiving the benefits to which you may be entitled.
The Hearing’s Purpose and How it Influences Questions
The purpose of an appeal hearing is to discover more details and make a final determination on an applicant’s eligibility for SSD benefits under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) guidelines. The ALJ is responsible for reviewing all of the documentation within your case file under those same guidelines. He or she is additionally responsible for questioning the applicant, any medical expert(s) testifying, and any other witnesses participating in the hearing in order to fill in any potential gaps in the case file documentation.
SSD eligibility depends on the medical condition of the applicant, his or her ability to find and sustain substantial gainful activity, and the length of time the individual is expected to be unable to work. Because these are the central qualification criteria under the SSA’s definitions of “disabled” and “eligible”, the ALJ’s questions will revolve around these same central themes.
Medical Condition, History and Treatments
You will be asked for details about your current medical condition and your medical history. The ALJ will want to understand more about how your condition affects you personally and professionally. You’ll need to be able to answer questions about your physical and/or psychological condition as well as the manner in which the condition limits your abilities on a daily basis, both in your career and in your personal life.
Work History, Education and Training
Part of qualifying for SSD benefits is showing you’re unable to sustain gainful employment due to your physical and/or psychological limitations. The ALJ will want to know about your work history, education, training and your other qualifications. These details will help the ALJ determine if you are truly unable to work because of your medical condition and whether or not you could potentially seek employment in another career field.
In other words, the ALJ will be asking questions about the kinds of jobs you had in the past, what kinds of jobs you’ve sought since being unable to work in your regular career field, and if you’ve made unsuccessful work attempts since becoming disabled. Work attempts are essentially jobs you tried but were unable to maintain because of your health limitation.
Preparing for the Hearing
You should know the details of your own case. That includes the details of your health history, current condition and work history. You should also be prepared to answer questions honestly and truthfully about how your health limits your everyday existence.
A Social Security lawyer or advocate can help you prepare for testifying before the ALJ. He or she can walk you through practice sessions during which you’ll answer some of the more common questions encountered during appeal hearings. The attorney or advocate can also give you feedback and advice regarding your responses. In doing so, your attorney will be helping you become more adept at describing your own situation and circumstances. The goal is to make your responses more effective in communicating the reality of your disability to the ALJ during the disability hearing.