If your initial application for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA) was denied, you can appeal that decision. Although the appeal process can be time-consuming, and often frustrating, it is often worth the time and effort, as many denials are overturned after an appeal is heard. The second stage of the appeals process requires your application to be reviewed by an administrative law judge. Here is some important information about that process.
What Happens Before an ALJ Hearing?
Before your application gets to the ALJ stage, it will have already gone through the initial decision process and have been denied. It will have also gone through the reconsideration phase of the appeals process. At this process, your application must be reviewed by someone who was not involved in the initial decision process. You will only reach the ALJ phase if your application is denied at this level as well.
The ALJ Hearing
If your claim is denied at the reconsideration hearing, you can choose to appeal that decision and have it heard by an ALJ judge. The administrative law judge who will hear your case must have had nothing to do with the first two decisions on your claim. This hearing will most likely take place within 75 miles of your home. There is a good chance you will be asked to provide additional information and evidence that will help to prove your case. You may also be asked to clarify any information that may be unclear or confusing to the ALJ. During the hearing, the judge will ask you questions about your condition. If you bring a witness, that person must answer similar questions as well. In some cases, you may be asked to conduct your hearing via video conference. However, this will only happen when that will be the more convenient option for you due to your distance from the courthouse. It is to your advantage to attend your hearing whether it is in person or via video. If you cannot or do not wish to attend, you must notify the SSA as soon as possible.
Tips for Answering Questions at your ALJ Hearing
Since your claim will have already been denied twice before your ALJ hearing, it is important that you answer all of the questions the judge asks you in the best way possible. Here are some tips for doing so.
– Answer the question that was asked by the ALJ
– Many people do not listen closely to what the judge asks and
so do not answer the questions that are posed. Listen carefully to what the judge asks and provide answers that fit those questions rather than ones that are slightly off-topic,
– Do not Ramble
– Be succinct in your answers. Although it is common to ramble on as you answer, especially if you are nervous, only answer the questions that are asked of you and avoid adding any unnecessary information.
– Be specific about your condition and the limitations it puts on you
– Giving specific and detailed answers about your conditions and the way it affects you will help to give the judge a clear picture of your disability and will help him or her have a better understanding of it. Be as specific as you can. For example, state an exact duration of time you can stand before you need to sit rather than saying “a little while”.
– Be prepared to explain gaps in your medical history
– It is normal to have periods of time when you have little or no medical treatment for your condition. The judge will certainly ask for an explanation about those gaps, though. So, be prepared to honestly answer why you were not seeking treatment at those times.
– Be prepared to explain “bad facts”
– If your medical records contain any “bad facts”, be ready to have an honest explanation for them.
– Describe Your Daily Living Routine
One question you will surely be asked is how your condition affects your daily living and how your life has changed since the onset of your condition. Be sure to let the judge know of any daily activities in which you can no longer engage.
– Do Not Exaggerate
– It may be tempting to exaggerate the information you present to the judge, but avoid doing it. ALJs listen to hundreds of cases a year, so it will be difficult to exaggerate the truth and get away with it. Instead, your claim has a better chance of being approved if you are honest in your answers.
Work With Representation
You have a much better chance of having your appeal be approved if you work with an experienced disability attorney. A disability attorney will know how to prepare you for your day in court, help you avoid answering questions poorly and will help to calm your fears.