Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Social Security’s hearing offices are currently closed to the public. Therefore, your hearing may be conducted by telephone. It is important to note that you have the right to request an in-person hearing. However, this means that you will have to wait until the hearing offices reopen to the public. In addition, some hearing offices and judges are offering video hearings using software from Microsoft Teams. In general, all hearing types should be similar, but this blog specifically discusses telephone hearings.
What Happens in a Social Security Hearing?
The Social Security hearing office will call you at your phone number of record at the scheduled hearing time. Therefore, it is very important to keep your phone number up to date with your attorney and with Social Security. The caller’s number may be masked, but the Social Security Hearing Monitor will identify themselves as being a representative of Social Security. The Hearing Monitor will also contact your attorney/representative, the Judge for your case, and any experts needed for the case. These experts could include vocational experts, psychological experts and/or medical experts.
After all parties are on the line, the Judge will generally perform the following preliminary tasks to start the hearing: 1) confirm that all parties are connected and that there are no faulty connections; 2) confirm that no one other than the hearing monitor is making a recording; 3) confirm that there are no objections to proceeding by telephone; and 4) confirm that each participant is alone and in a private location.
The Judge will then typically review some procedural elements of the case with your attorney. This includes such items as whether all of the evidence has been submitted, whether your attorney has reviewed your case file, and whether there are any objections to any of the exhibits.
Questions to Expect from a Social Security Judge at a Hearing
After these preliminary and procedural matters are addressed, the Judge will ask you to swear or affirm that you will tell the truth, under penalty of perjury. Most people say “yes, Judge,” or “I do,” but any statement that tells the Judge that you will tell the truth is fine. The Judge will also remind you that your testimony is to be solely your own and that no one may assist you in testifying.
After this, the Judge and your attorney will ask you questions that can be generally grouped into four main categories:
- Basic questions (name, address, date of birth, where you live, who you live with, your marital status, ages of children, whether you have driver's license and whether you drive, what sources of income you have);
- Questions about your education and work history (highest level of school or degrees/training completed, and questions about the kind of work you have done in the last 15 years including the physical demands at each job [especially how much you had to stand/walk and lift/carry]);
- Questions about why you are disabled (any health reason you have for not being able to work with descriptions of how those health problems limit your ability to stand, walk, lift, carry, bend or move in other ways, use your hands, concentrate, remember, interact and get along with other people, needing additional breaks or absences from working). For this portion of the hearing, you will need to be able to provide examples of your physical and mental limitations, like being able to answer how long you can stand or walk, how much you can lift or carry, problems you have concentrating or interacting with others, etc.
- Questions about how you spend a typical day (generally, what you do from the time you wake until you go to bed, sometimes specific questions about your ability to drive, shop, cook, clean, dress, bathe, whether you have any hobbies or interests). This could also include questions about taking care of other family or friends, whether you use drugs or alcohol or have any criminal history.
Can Experts Testify at Your Social Security Hearing?
After you have completed your testimony, the Judge will often take testimony from the various experts. A medical or psychological expert will be providing opinions on whether any of your conditions meet or equal any of the Listings of Impairments. This expert will also provide opinions on what limitations are substantiated by the medical evidence in the record and when these limitations became justified by your condition(s).
The vocational expert will classify your past work in terms used by the Social Security Administration and also provide opinions on the types of jobs available for a person with limitations and work restrictions that you have. The vocational expert will NOT be providing an opinion on whether you personally can work. After classifying your past work, the vocational expert will answer questions from the Judge about a hypothetical person who has at least some limitations in common with you. You could imagine that the vocational expert will take a list of all the jobs that exist and then filter out any jobs that cannot be performed within the limitations described by the Judge. If there are any jobs left, the vocational expert will tell the Judge about those jobs. Most Judges will ask between one and five of these hypothetical questions. Once the Judge has concluded her questioning of the vocational expert, you or your disability attorney will have a chance to question the vocational expert.
After the vocational expert testifies, the Judge could review any outstanding issues regarding evidence or procedures with you or your attorney/representative. While the Judge could potentially announce a decision at the end of the hearing, most Judges do not. After finalizing evidentiary and procedural matters, the hearing will be concluded. Following the hearing, the Judge will prepare a written decision and mail a copy to you and to your attorney/representative.
Our Social Security Attorneys Can Help With Your Disability Hearing
At Keller & Keller, we've been fighting for the rights of disabled and injured people just like you since 1936. We have the experience and knowledge needed to successfully navigate the Social Security benefits process from beginning to end. From your initial application, through appeals, and even all the way to Federal court if necessary, our Social Security attorneys know how to win. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation!