What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?

A disability hearing is a relatively informal process that will take place in a small conference room. Present in the room, in addition to you and your attorney, will be the Administrative Law Judge, a court reporter and a Vocational Expert. The hearings are recorded and you will be sworn under oath to tell the truth.

Basically the judge wants to hear from you about your symptoms and how they affect your day-to-day functioning. You will not be expected to remember specific dates or medical terminology. The hearing is simply an opportunity for the judge to gain an understanding of how you are limited and why you are unable to work.

Administrative Law Judges differ in how they hold a hearing. Some may ask very specific questions, while others may simply ask for some background information and let your attorney do the questioning.

The questions will focus on these general areas:

  • Your employment history over the past 15 years;
  • Any work attempts that you have had since you became disabled and why you stopped working;
  • What your impairments and disabilities are and what symptoms you have;
  • What medical treatment you've undergone;
  • Your medications and any side effects that you may experience from them;
  • Description of your limitations and how they may affect your ability to perform a job; and
  • Your daily activities and how they have changed since you became disabled.

Once you have finished testifying, the Administrative Law Judge will ask the Vocational Expert about your prior work history and whether there are jobs for someone with your limitations. The Vocational Expert is generally someone trained in job placement and vocational issues. They may name some jobs and list various numbers and codes associated with those jobs. It is important to remember that the Vocational Expert is not the decision-maker and even if he/she lists some jobs you could supposedly do, this does not necessarily mean you have lost your case.

Once the Vocational Expert has been questioned, the hearing will close. Administrative Law Judges do not issue decisions on the day of the hearing since they have to issue a formal legal opinion. It can take some months after the hearing to receive a decision.