At the hearing stage of your case, you will have the opportunity to appear before an Administrative Law Judge. This judge only hears cases concerning claims for disability benefits and is an employee of the Social Security Administration. The judge will look at a number of different sources of evidence in considering your claim for benefits.
The most obvious source of evidence in your case will be the medical records documenting your diagnoses and the treatment that you have received for your disabling conditions. One of the advantages of being represented by a disability law firm is that you will have an experienced staff behind you that will help order and submit medical evidence that is relevant to your claim. The medical evidence that the judge will want to see will be from the period since you allege you became disabled, or immediately prior to when you became disabled. In other words, the judge does not want to look at extensive medical records from a period of time predating the onset of your disability.
The judge will look at records from visits to clinics and hospitals, as well as visits to physical therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, and will look at statements that your providers have made for the purposes of your disability claim. It is very important that you continue to receive treatment for your disabling conditions while your claim is pending. This is because the judge assigned to your case will want to see continuing evidence of your disability and will want to see that you are taking advantage of treatment options aimed at reducing or managing your symptoms. It is also important that you let your representatives know about your appointments so that all of your medical records can be ordered in advance of your hearing and submitted. With a few exceptions, the judge assigned to your case is not obligated to accept evidence submitted to him or her on the day of the hearing.
The testimony that you and any other witnesses at your hearing provide will also be considered. The judge cannot make her decision based solely off the testimony that you provide. This evidence alone will not be sufficient to prove disability without strong medical evidence as well. Additionally, your case will involve testimony from a vocational expert as well as possibly a medial expert. The judge will take this testimony into account as well. Your attorney will be allowed to cross-examine these witnesses about the statements that they make during the hearing. Finally, you may call a family member or friend to testify as a lay witness. As non-experts, the value of this testimony is somewhat limited, and they may even be viewed as somewhat biased. Lay witness testimony is sometimes useful, though, in the case of a disability claimant that has a difficult time articulating their symptoms or when the claimant is a child.