December 15, 2018

Social Security Disability Hearings

A majority of Multiple Sclerosis disability claimants will end up attending a hearing for their MS disability claim.

The prospect of appearing before a Judge at a hearing often invokes feelings of anxiety among Multiple Sclerosis claimants.  However, there is no need to worry.  Social Security disability hearings differ greatly in procedure from those court proceedings seen on television and/or experienced in real life.

Social Security hearings are closed to the public, meaning that only you, your attorney, and maybe a few key witnesses are allowed to participate in the hearing.   The Rules of Procedure that govern state, federal, and municipal courts are not applicable in Social Security disability hearings.

Below are some key factors that differentiate a Social Security hearing from other types of court proceedings – traffic court, for example.

The rules of evidence are relaxed

In both state and federal courts, as well as in municipal courts, judges are required by law to follow either the Rules of Criminal Procedure or the Rules of Civil Procedure, depending upon what type hearing is happening before the Court.   These Rules govern what a judge may or may not allow into evidence.  However, in Social Security disability hearings, these types of evidentiary issues are nonexistent.  ALJs, or Administrative Law Judges, allow most all types of evidence that can substantiate a claimant’s position for disability.  Types of evidence that are admissible are as follows:  photocopies, letters from witnesses (make sure these type statements are notarized), and even hearsay (a type of evidence often objected to in other courts).

Only a few individuals are allowed to be present at the hearing

State or federal court proceedings are adversarial in nature.  In these type of courts, there are always two sides to an issue.  One or more attorneys represent the Plaintiff and/or State, while an additional attorney represents the Defendant.  However, at a Social Security hearing, the only people present are you, your lawyer, the ALJ, and occasionally additional expert witnesses as well.  Both the claimant and his/her attorney are charged with the task of presenting their case to the ALJ.  The SSA does not send counsel to argue against a claimant’s request for benefits.

It is common practice for the ALJ to request the presence of a vocational expert (VE) witness to testify about any past work history, as well as to determine if there are other types of work that a claimant is able to do.  In addition, the ALJ may also call a medical expert, known as a ME. The ME is often a retired medical doctor who will help the judge by summarizing the claimant’s medical record.

The look and feel of the Social Security courtroom is different

Social Security hearings are typically held in a small courtroom similar in size to that of an attorney’s office.  Most often, the judge will be seated in a raised bench and he/she may or may not wear a judicial black robe.  Usually, the claimant and his/her lawyer sit around a large conference type table.

In conclusion, a Social Security Disability hearing is nothing to be intimidated by. They are more relaxed than your typical courtrooms, and there will be no other people, other than those discussed above, watching in on you as you present your case. Social Security Judges know what you have been through to make it all the way up to this point, so they are typically open-minded and willing to listen to your case. For more on what actually happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing, please click on the link.