Interviewer: What should you expect at a benefits hearing?
Jeanne: At the initial and the reconsideration appeal stage, that’s all submitted to some office, your medical records, the paperwork you’ve filled out, and an expert reviews all that and decides, “Your disabled” or “You’re not disabled.” Either you meet the listing or you do not you meet the listing.
The Hearing Is in Front of an Administrative Law Judge
When we got to a hearing, it is in front of a social security judge who is an administrative law judge. There are many areas in the federal government that are adjudicated by professionals who are not truly judicial. They’re not a judge like a federal district court judge. But they’re called a judge because they’re at the apex of being able to evaluate these types of claims.
The Hearing Is Attended by the Judge, the Claimant and the Claimant’s Representative
It’s not an adversarial process the way, say, you see on TV, where somebody sues their neighbor because the tree broke the fence. The only people at a social security disability hearing are the judge, the person making the claim, and that person’s representative.
In Some Cases a Vocational Expert May Attend
There is usually what’s called a vocational expert, but there’s no attorney for the other side. Sometimes there’s a medical expert, if the records are the type of disease is something unusual. A hearing might last 15 minutes to a half an hour. It’s in a very small hearing room.
They may have to answer questions asked by a judge or the questions might be directed to their own representative. Once they finish discussing how their disability affects them, the judge will consult with the vocational expert about some of the other things that we’ve talked about earlier. For example, would a person with this level of education be able to be retrained. A person with this level of experience, do they have transferrable job skills?
That all goes into the mix. However, there is no adversarial attorney on the other side in these hearing.
The Results of the Hearing Take Two to Three Months
Interviewer: Now, at the end of that hearing, is there an immediate answer or do you still have to wait as long as you would from the initial application?
Jeanne: We don’t receive results on those for two to three months.
Jeanne: At least in this area, the judges take two or three days and do nothing but hearings all day long, and then take four to six weeks and do nothing but writing and research.
Then they’ll do another round of hearings. We very rarely get an immediate, on the record decision. Typically, we get the decision back by mail after two or three months.