Preparing for your ALJ hearing
Since the hearing is such an important aspect of your appeal, this section goes over things you can do to better prepare for it.
Once you file your request for a hearing (the appeal), the district office of SSA will prepare your file and ship it to another office called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). This will take at least a month, likely longer. The people at the ODAR office will then need to prepare the file for the hearing. ODAR will prepare a CD ROM of your file that contains all the information it based its decision on, including your medical records and other statements or forms filled out by you or Social Security. ODAR should send you a copy of your file on an encrypted CD. The evidence on the CD is called the "exhibit file." If you don’t have access to a computer, call ODAR to set up a time to go see your file.
Since many months will pass between the time you receive your first denial letter and the date of your hearing, you need to update your medical records so that the judge has an accurate picture of your situation. If you know about other medical info that is not in your file, such as hospital or doctor's records, therapist's notes, or x-ray reports, get copies of them to the judge before the hearing if possible. If you have new letters from employers or social workers about your ability to work, give them to ODAR before the hearing.If you have a regular doctor who has not sent Social Security a letter or report, ask him or her to do so. If your doctor did submit a report, ask her to make another one explaining why your doctor thinks you are disabled and unable to work. Your own doctor's opinion is very important in proving your disability. When submitting evidence – your additional or updated records - you need to fax it using the special fax cover sheet that ODAR will send you.
Any new evidence must be submitted to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) no later than 5 days before the hearing.There is an exception to the rule, but it is not automatic -- the ALJ decides whether or not to accept the evidence. If your disability prevents you from submitting evidence before the deadline, that might be an exception, as might some other unusual, unexpected or unavoidable circumstance beyond your control. But remember, the ALJ still decides whether or not to accept the evidence if it's not submitted before the 5 day deadline.
Social Security must also take into consideration information from other people about your level of functioning (example: what you can/cannot do due to your disabling impairment). You can get letters from counselors, nurse practitioners, past employers, and friends and family. Try not to dump a bunch of medical records or other evidence on the judge at your hearing. The sooner you can submit updated records, the better prepared the judge will be.
Your hearing is the only time during the application process that you will meet the decision maker in person. You must present your whole case: everything about your disability, its effects, and why it keeps you from being able to work. When getting ready for your hearing, make a list of what you want to tell the judge. Review your file ahead of time. You don’t want to waste valuable time at the hearing trying to remember certain dates and events.
The Day of Your Hearing
Be on time. You might have to wait for your turn, but you only have an hour for your scheduled hearing and if things aren’t running on time, your time in front of the judge may be shortened. Bring photo ID and be prepared for going through security to get into the building. Dress appropriately.
When your hearing begins, don’t play doctor. That is, don’t use a bunch of medical terms to describe your impairments. The judge has already read your medical records. And don’t rely just upon your diagnosis. The judge needs to hear you talk about how your medical condition impacts your life and in particular your ability to work. Focus on your limitations and functions. Don’t exaggerate. Be honest. Be prepared to discuss aspects of your life that may be intimate and embarrassing. If there is something in your medical record that you don’t believe is true or is incomplete, make a note of it before hand and explain it to the judge. Last, don’t cop an attitude – that won’t help your case.