Filing for Social Security disability benefits can be a long, tiresome process. For many, it becomes discouraging after their initial claim is denied. After the request for a redetermination is also denied (as they almost always are), it can be tempting to give up. Many people head into their hearing with an Administrative Law Judge expecting to be turned down again. Because of this, most claimants fail to properly prepare themselves for their disability hearing. This is perhaps the biggest mistake made by disability claimants.
The majority of initial claims are denied. A denial of your initial claim is so common, it’s almost considered standard practice. The redetermination is likewise nearly always denied (over 80% in most jurisdictions). Your hearing, however, is your opportunity to present your case before a living, breathing human being who is able to look you in the eye and see you for something other than a file folder that landed on his desk.
That isn’t to say that other types of Social Security disability examiners don’t care about you. Most social workers care deeply about what they do and want to help people who are truly disabled. However, before you reach the Administrative Law Judge, the adjudicators who are handling your claim are bound by strict guidelines regarding what they can and cannot approve. While they do have some leeway in making decisions, they don’t have nearly the authority which an Administrative Law Judge has to rule in your favor.
Because the Administrative Law judge is able to actually see you, question you, and physically hear your side of the story, he represents your best chance of an approval. The majority of Social Security disability claims which are approved are approved at the hearing. This makes it all the more important that you are thoroughly prepared to present your case.
The best way to prepare yourself to handle a disability hearing is to have a Social Security disability lawyer review your case with you. In most cases, you will want a qualified Social Security representative, like a lawyer, to represent you at your hearing.
Your disability lawyer will help prepare you for the kinds of questions the Administrative Law Judge will ask. He will also prepare you for the kinds of questions the medical examiner, vocational expert and other experts who may be present at your hearing (depending on your disability) may ask of you. Further, he will be there to represent you and advise you during the hearing regarding what information you should give out.
You have a right to represent yourself at your disability hearing if you choose to, of course. However, statistics consistently show that those who have competent counsel are much more likely to be approved for Social Security disability benefits. Studies have shown that as much as 90% of claimants who have legal representation at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge have their claims approved.
If you do choose to represent yourself, you will want to be doubly sure that you have all medical documentation relating to your disability (or any other condition which could be considered disabling). You will also want to consider bringing a character witness, preferably someone who has worked with you and is aware of your disability and how it prevents you from returning to work.
While consulting an actual Social Security disability attorney is your safest bet, you should at least educate yourself regarding the kinds of questions which are asked of people with your condition. There is a good deal of information available about this on the SSA’s own website, and additional information abounds on the Internet. Don’t face your disability hearing without adequately preparing yourself ahead of time. Your hearing represents your best chance to have the disability benefits you need approved.