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Pillars of Justice

What should I expect at a Social Security Hearing?

A social security hearing takes place at the end of the administrative portion of a social security disability claim. If you are waiting to have a hearing, that means you have already been through the initial phase and the reconsideration phase, and have appealed both of those denials. Your hearing will be held in front of an Administrative Law Judge who only hears social security disability hearings. This Judge, or ALJ, is a Federal Judge and is not like the Judges at State or Superior Court.

If you are in north Georgia, the hearing will take place in one of the local hearing offices, not in a courthouse. These hearing offices are located in Gainesville, Athens, Alpharetta, or Downtown Atlanta.

Once your hearing is called, you will be directed into a courtroom. The courtrooms are typically smaller than those you encounter in your local courthouse. This is because there is no jury, no area for people to watch, and the general public is not allowed to be present. Social Security hearings, because they involve personal medical information, are private. In the hearing room with you will only be the ALJ, a court reporter, a vocational expert (VE), and an attorney or non-attorney-representative if you have retained one.

Once the ALJ calls your hearing to order, he or she will explain that the decision at the hearing level is a new decision and he or she is not bound by any prior decisions. Your testimony is taken under oath with penalty of perjury, and so you and the vocational expert will be sworn in. Once that happens, the ALJ will ask you some questions about your medical condition. He or she may ask you about the work you did in the past and why you do not think you can work any longer.

After the ALJ has finished asking questions, he or she will then ask the vocational expert some questions. The vocational expert is an expert in jobs and an expert in what is expected of an employee during employment. The ALJ will ask the VE to classify, or name, the past relevant work. This may sound confusing as the VE will give the work a number from the "Dictionary of Occupational Titles" and will determine the mental and physical requirements of that job. Then, the judge will ask some hypothetical questions of the vocational expert.

The VE cannot and does not provide testimony about whether you as an individual can work. It is the responsibility of the ALJ to determine what physical and mental restrictions you may have based on your medical conditions. The ALJ will then ask the VE to give an opinion about whether those restrictions prevent someone from working. Typically, an ALJ will give three hypotheticals. The first hypothetical is the least restrictive one. The second and third will provide more and more restrictions usually until the VE testifies that there is no work available. Exactly what is asked and how the VE responds is highly variable from hearing to hearing.

At the end of the hearing, you usually will not be given an indication as to how the judge is going to rule. The ALJ will thank you for your time and testimony and will tell you that a decision will be written and sent out to you.

After the hearing, the ALJ will review the medical record and consider the testimony given. Then the ALJ will select the hypothetical he or she thinks fit the medical record the best. That is when the ALJ will determine whether you are disabled. A written decision usually takes about 60 days to receive in the mail.

**The above is based on how hearings are done in the Georgia area. Depending on the area of the country you are in, hearings may be different than described above.


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