At every disability hearing, there's the claimant, their representative, the judge, a hearing reporter who records the proceedings, and a vocational expert who testifies whether the claimant can perform any jobs.
The most confusing part of a disability hearing for claimants is always the vocational expert testimony.
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.
If Social Security Administration has denied your claim for disability benefits, you have a right to personal appearance before an administrative law judge to present evidence supporting your claim. The right to appear in person may be waived, though an administrative law judge may still schedule a hearing if he or she believes it would be helpful in deciding your case. Social Security Administration may also opt to conduct the hearing via video teleconferencing (VTC), though the claimant has the right to object. While a VTC hearing may be speedier and more convenient in some situations, there are compelling reasons to appear in person.
Claimants frequently ask if they can call upon a friend or family member to support their disability claim. Although you have the right to present any evidence you want at a hearing, the testimony of a lay witness is often assigned little weight by the administrative law judge (ALJ) deciding the case, particularly if the witness has no expertise in the medical or vocational fields, or if he/she is biased due to personal interest. However, the ALJ may request the services of an independent expert to provide impartial opinion evidence in deciding your case.
After your application for disability benefits has been denied by the Social Security Administration (typically twice, but it depends on your state) you will be provided the opportunity to appear before an administrative law judge. Your judge will not have been involved in issuing previous denials in your case. Prior to your hearing, the judge will have examined the medical records that you and your representative have submitted to the Social Security Administration.
As you near the scheduled hearing date in your case, your attorney or case manager will ask you to arrive at the hearing location at least a half hour prior to your hearing. It is very important that you try your best to arrive early. You may have additional questions for your attorney or your attorney may wish to speak with you again before your hearing. It is also a good idea to give yourself some extra time in case of traffic issues or difficulty finding the hearing location.
The unfortunate truth of the Social Security disability system is that which judge hears your case can have the biggest impact on whether your application for benefits is approved.
The short answer is a lack of funding for the Social Security Administration from Congress. Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) have not had an increase in funding in many years. SSA officials have told Congress that they need more Social Security Administrative Law Judges and support staff to administer the hearings. However, Congress has yet to provide that money. This issue has been in the news lately.
Claimants who have been denied Social Security Disability benefits can wait months or even years to plead their case before an administrative law judge. When a hearing is finally scheduled, attendance is important. The hearing office is required to provide at least 75 days advance written notice of the hearing. Hearings may be conducted in person, by video teleconferencing (VTC), or by telephone. If you cannot make your scheduled appointment time, you or your appointed representative should notify the Social Security Administration Hearing Office immediately to request a postponement.