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Social Security Disability Benefits Hearings

Many disability benefit applicants are unfamiliar with the process behind an appeals hearing. Some may be familiar with the civil or criminal court process and are unnerved to realize that, for the most part, a disability benefits hearing is nothing like a formal court proceeding. To begin with, a disability benefits hearing is held in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). An ALJ differs from a civil or criminal judge in that he or she is appointed as an extension of the bureau in which the judge will decide cases, as opposed to elected or appointed. Secondly, the benefits hearing is much less procedurally formal than a civil or criminal proceeding and is not adversarial in nature – meaning the Social Security Administration does not take “sides” and is involved strictly to determine whether benefits are appropriate.

The purpose of the ALJ is to serve as a neutral fact-finder. Statistically, an ALJ will grant benefits to about 60% of all claimants. Each judge has his or her own background and method of uncovering evidence; however, no SSA ALJ should appear biased or self-serving in any way.

Preparation for an SSA hearing involves gathering and submitting vital evidentiary information such as medical records and opinions, witness testimony and any reports regarding the accident giving rise to the claim. At the hearing, the New York disability lawyer will examine witnesses by a direct or cross-examination all while presenting the claimant’s case in a light most favorable to him or her. A New York disability lawyer should not treat the ALJ as an adversary or opponent, but rather as a neutral third-party tasked with making a final decision on behalf of the SSA. The ALJ will interject questions and objections intermittently depending on the nature of the hearing and the judge’s style.

The SSA allows claimants the option of appearing before an ALJ in person or via teleconference. However, no judge can require a teleconference if the claimant wishes to appear in person. In addition, an SSA hearing does not adhere to the strict rules of evidence or procedure inherent in a criminal or civil trial. New York disability lawyers can request subpoenas or a continuance for additional time to prepare if necessary.

If you have more questions about the Social Security disability process, contact our offices today. We would love to help guide you through the process.

Wendy Brill
New York Social Security lawyer