Many people think their Social Security hearing will resemble a courtroom TV drama. Thankfully, that is NOT the case. Social Security hearings are quite informal. You will be in a small room with only the Judge, the hearing officer, a vocational examiner, and your representative (if you have one).
Once everyone is settled, the Judge will announce that we are now on the record, meaning the audio recording has begun. There is a little microphone in front of you that does not amplify your voice, but does pick up your responses for the hearing officer to type.
There is a short formality of the Judge asking about the evidence and whether there are any objections to the evidence entered into the record. Then the Judge will ask for a waiver of the reading of the issues. Since we all know you are there to determine whether or not you qualify for Social Security, the lengthy reading is usually waived.
Next, you and the vocational examiner will be sworn to tell the truth. After that the proceeding gets going. You’ll be asked questions by the Judge and by your representative. Sometimes a representative wishes to make an opening statement to the Court, but often that is all set forth in a brief sent to the Judge ahead of time. You will be asked a lot of questions about what type of work you were doing, and what type of problems you have resulting from injuries or medical conditions. If there are any negative issues in your medical files to be addressed, you will be asked about them as well. This can be medical non-compliance, drug and alcohol use, statements you made to a doctor, or anything that seems contradictory to your testimony. Once the Judge and your representative have asked all of the questions, the Judge will then address the vocational examiner.
At this stage, the vocational examiner will be presented with a series of hypothetical questions. Assuming a person with your age, education, and work history, if that person has the following limitations……. are they able to go back to any previous work activity. If the answer is no, then can they do any other type of work available in the national and local economy. There may be a series of increasing limitations posed to the vocational examiner. Ultimately, you hope the vocational examiner testifies there are no jobs available. After the Judge has concluded his or her questions, the representative will ask a few questions of the vocational examiner, also in the form of these hypotheticals. Once there are no more questions, the Judge may ask if there are any closing statements and then end the hearing.
You are not likely to know the outcome of your hearing for several weeks. Some representatives push the Judge to give a ruling at that moment. I have heard dozens of people complain that the Judge said yes at the hearing, but then reversed themselves in their formal opinion. Until the formal opinion is issued, your case is not yet decided. It is my practice to be patient and get only the final answer. Once you get your approval letter, it may be a few more weeks to get your first payment. A representative should stay on the file until your back pay has been received and your monthly payments have begun to prevent confusion or delays.