Social Security Disability & SSI - Hearings

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1.When and Where will the Hearing be?

Usually (but not always) it takes Social Security several months to set a hearing date. Social Security will tell you the date and place at least 20 days in advance.

The hearing will usually be held within 75 miles of your home. If the hearing will be held more than 75 miles from your home, you can ask the Social Security Administration to change the location. If the hearing still is held more than 75 miles from your home, you and your witnesses will be paid back for reasonable travel expenses.

2.What Happens at the Hearing?

An administrative law judge will run the hearing. The judge's job is to make an independent decision based on the evidence in your case. This evidence includes medical records, other documents, and testimony you and others give at the hearing.

The judge will question you about your disability. You can testify and question witnesses. The hearing is private and is held in a small conference room. You do not have to dress up for the hearing.

The only people at the hearing will be:

· The Administrative Law Judge

· The ALJ's Assistant

· You

· Your representative (if you have one)

· Any witness you want to testify

· Maybe, a "Vocational Expert" and/or a "Medical Advisor."

The hearing will be tape recorded.

3.Can I be Represented at the Hearing?

You can go to the hearing with anyone you wish, including a lawyer, paralegal, or other advocate. You do not have to have a lawyer, but if you can get a lawyer to represent you, you have a better chance of winning.

If you would like an attorney to represent you, you may look for a legal services attorney or for an attorney in private practice. Some legal services attorneys handle Social Security cases for low-income clients. Legal services may also refer you to a private attorney who will take your case. For more information, call the Public Benefits Hotline (1-800-520-5292) or your local Legal Aid Services Office for possible advice or representation. Go to for a directory of legal aid programs.

An attorney will usually expect a fee for representing you. The fee must be approved by the Social Security Administration. Most attorneys will charge you a fee only if you win your case and the fee is paid out of your back benefits. But, some attorneys charge fees even if you don't win. Talk to the lawyer about the fees when you first contact the attorney. Make sure you understand and agree to any fee agreement you sign.

4.Should I Prepare for the Hearing?

It is very important to prepare for a Social Security hearing. Your chances of winning the hearing are much better if you take time long before the hearing to:

· Get the medical evidence you need

· Think about the testimony you'll give

· Get witnesses who can give information about your disability

The following chart is a checklist of things for you to do to get ready for your hearing. Begin preparing as soon as you've asked for a hearing.

5.What Evidence do I present at the Hearing?

You need to prove you have a serious medical problem that has lasted or that will last for at least 12 months and that keeps you from working. You do this with:

· Medical evidence

· Your testimony

· Testimony of witnesses

6.What kind of Medical Evidence do I need?

The most important medical evidence will probably be a written statement or letter from all doctors who have seen you on a regular basis. This letter should describe your medical problem(s) and explain how your disability makes you unable to work.

It may be helpful to ask your doctor to go with you to the hearing to testify about your medical problems. The doctor will probably charge you for the time spent at your hearing.

Doctors usually do not appear at disability hearings. If you are not sure your doctor wants to testify in your case, it is probably better to get the best letter you can from the doctor instead. See Section 7 below for information on Medical Letters.

You should also get medical information from any medical specialists who have examined you. Information from them can be helpful because of their expertise at treating the conditions you have. A specialist may be willing to write a letter about your medical problems or at least give you chart notes, the results of any medical tests, and any reports he or she wrote about your case. You should also get a copy of the records from any hospitals where you were evaluated or treated for your disabilities.

If you have never seen a doctor for the problems you are having, you can ask SSA to set up an appointment for you to see one. But it is usually much better to get a letter on your own from your own doctor who knows about your medical problem and who feels you are unable to work.

SSA helps you gather medical information for your case, but sometimes they do not have all the medical information that is available. Make sure that your SSA file has all of the medical information in your case (from your treating doctor, medical specialists who have seen you, any hospital records, etc.).

If you think there is anything else the judge should see before making a decision in your case, ask the judge if you can add that information after the hearing. The judge may not let you add evidence after the hearing, so it is better if you can get all the information you can by the hearing date.

7.Medical Letters for Disability Claims

Medical letters are very important for your case and they must have the right kinds of information so that you can prove you're disabled. A helpful medical letter will give the following information:

· A diagnosis and description of the condition(s). This should be detailed and include any condition for which the doctor has treated you

· Medical findings. Ask your doctor to attach any materials from your medical file (such as test results, x-rays, progress notes) that would support the opinions given in the letter

· The condition's effect upon you. A specific statement as to how each condition limits your ability to do various work and non-work activities. Does the doctor think you can return to any previous jobs, or do any other type of full-time work?

· Medication and treatment. List medications, their side effects and a statement as to whether the medication itself might affect your ability to work. What kind of treatment are you undergoing (surgery, physical therapy, etc.)?

· Prognosis. Will you get better? Stay the same? Get worse? How long will the condition last? (Only individuals who have been or will be unable to work for at least l2 months are eligible for disability benefits.)

· Consultant. Does your doctor believe you have any problem which should be evaluated by a specialist.

Show this list to your doctor when you ask for a medical letter.

Some medical reports may already be in your file. If they don't cover all the necessary information, try to get additional letters. You should ask your doctor to send the letter to you rather than to Social Security. You can then decide if the letter covers all the things in this section and, if not, ask the doctor for more information. Many doctors will charge a fee for writing this letter.

8.What will I testify about at the Hearing?

1. Medical Condition

a. The judge will ask how your medical

a.condition makes you feel. You should tell the judge the symptoms you experience such as pain, dizziness, numbness, nausea or paralysis as well as you can.

For example, if your case involves pain, you might be asked:

· Is the pain burning, stabbing, crushing, sharp, throbbing, radiating or aching?

· Does the pain make it hard to concentrate?

· What medicine do you take for pain?

· How well does the medication work?

· Are there any side effects from the pain medication?

· How does the pain interfere with your daily activities?

Before the hearing, you should make notes to yourself about what conditions you have and how they affect you. Don't leave anything out.

2. Medical History

a. The judge may ask you how often you see your doctor, what sort of treatment your doctor provides, what medication you are presently taking, how often you take each medication and whether there are any side effects. You may also be asked to describe the symptoms and treatment of your medical condition since it began.

b. You should explain what your doctor has told you about your problem, but the judge won't ask you medical questions about your disability.

3. Physical Abilities

a. If you have a physical disability, the judge will ask you a lot of questions about what you are able to do.

For example:

· How far you can walk before resting

· How long you can sit and stand at one time during an eight-hour day

· How much you can lift

· If you can twist, bend, squat, crawl, climb and reach

· If you have problems handling objects

4. Mental Abilities

a. You should tell the judge about your ability to understand, carry out and remember instructions, to use good judgment, to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, usual work situations, and changes in your work setting.

5. Education and Training

a. You should tell the judge how far you went in school, if you finished high school or earned a G.E.D., if you have had any training in the military, if you can read and write, and if you have had any job training.

6. Work Experience

a. The judge will ask you to talk about job duties on your last job and on jobs you have had during the past 15 years. The judge will want to know how much of the time you spent sitting, standing and walking and how much weight you had to lift on each job. The judge will ask you why you left each job. If your condition caused you to miss a lot of work or caused you to stop working, you should explain this.

7. Daily Activities

a. The judge will ask you a lot of questions to find out how your disability affects you.

For example:

· How do you spend your time during the whole day

· How well you usually sleep and if you take naps during the day

· What things you do around the house, such as cooking, housework, or gardening, hobbies and other activities and how long you can keep doing each activity

· If you go shopping

· If you go to church

· If you drive a car or use public transportation

You should also explain how your daily routine has changed since you became disabled. For example, what kinds of activities did you do before you became disabled that you can't do now? Tell the judge if you have problems doing any of these activities.

Important Note: If you do not have a lawyer and the judge does not ask you about facts that you think are important, especially if it is one of the items listed above, make sure to talk about those facts yourself.

9.Can I have Witnesses at the Hearing?

You can bring relatives or friends to the hearing as witnesses. Good witnesses are persons who see you regularly and see how your medical condition affects you and how it has changed over time. Your spouse can be an especially good witness.

Witnesses should talk about the activities that you are not able to do.

10.What is a "Vocational Expert"?

Usually the judge will ask a Vocational Expert to testify at the hearing. A Vocational Expert will testify whether your disabilities make a job too hard for you to do.

11.What is a "Medical Advisor"?

Sometimes the judge will ask a doctor or psychologist to testify at the hearing or prepare a written report about your medical condition. The medical advisor is paid by SSA to help the judge decide if you have a serious medical problem that keeps you from being able to work.

12.When will I get the results of the Hearing?

You should receive a decision within 90 days of the hearing, but this deadline is not always met by Social Security.

13.What Happens if I win the Hearing?

If you win benefits, you will get SSD benefits retroactively depending on the date that you applied and on the date the judge says you became disabled. For SSI, you can only get benefits as far back as the date of your application.

Once in a while, the Social Security Appeals Council reverses favorable decisions. Be sure to read all mail you get from SSA.

14.What Happens if I lose the Hearing?

If you lose your hearing you can ask that your case be reviewed by the Social Security Appeals Council in Washington D.C. You must make this request within 60 days of your unfavorable hearing decision. To ask for a review of your case, get a form called "Request for Review" from the local Social Security office.

If the Council refuses to review your case or decides against you, you have another 60 days to appeal to the U.S. District Court in your area. You will need a lawyer to appeal your case in court.

15.Once I'm on SSD or SSI, what can I do if Social Security tries to stop or reduce my Benefits?

If you are getting SSI or SSD, Social Security will probably review your case at

some time to see if your medical condition has changed and if you are now able to work.

If SSA reviews your case, and if you are still disabled, try to get medical evidence from your doctor that shows your condition has stayed the same or is now worse. It is also very important to get a lawyer to represent you if you can.

If Social Security decides to terminate your benefits, you can appeal the decision. The appeal has two parts:

· A face-to-face meeting for reconsideration

· A hearing (as described in this flyer)

You will have 60 days to make a written request for an appeal. But, if you make a request within 10 days, your benefits will stay the same until you have a hearing and the Administrative Law Judge has made a decision on your case. But, if you lose the appeal you may be asked to pay back the benefits as an overpayment

Appeal immediately if you receive an unfavorable notice.

16.Social Security Hearings Preparation Checklist (Disability Claims)

· Read all letters and forms from the Social Security Office carefully and follow the instructions in them

· Review your file at the SSA office to see what medical evidence is in it and copy important documents if needed. Be sure to ask for your file far in advance of your hearing as your file is not always kept in the local SSA office

· Make a list of all the evidence you need to prove your claim including letters from doctors, medical records, and testimony from relatives, friends or neighbors who can support your claim that you are disabled and cannot work

· Get the evidence you need

· Have witnesses come to the hearing. Talk about what they will say at the hearing beforehand

· Make a list for the hearing of all the things you want to say. Write down the things you used to do but can no longer do such as sports, or other hobbies and spare time activities

· If you can, it is a good idea to keep a daily diary for a few weeks before the hearing. Record how well you sleep, how many times you wake up during the night. Keep track of the things you do during the day to accommodate your disability such as naps, rest periods, what you do to relieve pain, and requests for help from relatives and friends

· Note all medications taken. Describe everything you do during the day. A detailed description of your daily life can help show the judge the seriousness of your disability and can support your testimony about your medical symptoms

· Bring all medications you are taking to the hearing

· Plan for your transportation to the hearing so you can get there early

17.How can I get more Information?

For more information, call the Public Benefits Hotline (1-800-520-5292) or your local Legal Aid Services Office for possible advice or representation. Go to for a directory of legal aid programs.

Download a PDF with this information

Last Review and Update: Nov 08, 2010
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