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Social Security Disability Hearing – Don’t have an attorney

English: gavel no background

Here is what you need to prepare for.

1)Social Security will send you notice in the mail of your hearing date and time.  Thus you need to make sure that any address changes are promptly communicated to Social Security.

2) If that date and time is not good for you, let Social Security know immediately so they can reschedule the hearing. I suggest both filling out the form that comes with the notice and calling the hearing office.

3) Immediately update all your medical records.  You will need to get any records that Social Security did not get from at least your alleged onset date to the present.  You will also need to get a medical source statement from one of your doctors who supports your disability claim.  This statement must address work limitations and should not state that they think you are disabled.  Send copies into the hearing office as soon as you get them.

4) Make an appointment with Social Security ODAR to review your file.  It is on disk and they will have a computer for you to use.  If you are not familiar or uncomfortable with computers bring someone along with you who is.

5) A week or so prior to hearing, review your records.  It is important to know what your doctor’s have and haven’t said about your condition.  What you find may surprise you.

6) Take the time to figure out what you want to tell the judge about why you can’t work.  It is not enough to say I can’t work, you need to tell the judge what types of work activities you can and cannot do or how long you can do them before stopping.  These are things like sitting, standing, walking, using your arms, hands or feet, lifting things, reaching over head etc.  You may also have non-exertional limitations such as needing to avoid heights, hazards (machinery), dust, or needing extra breaks or not to be around people much.

7) Don’t hold back from the judge, overestimate what you can do, or lie about the bad things such as smoking, drinking, or illegal drug usage.  These things ARE in your records,thus be truthful.

8) Do not expect the judge to want to hear from any witnesses you bring.   The judge does not want to hear the same information again and again.  If you bring witnesses, the judge may or may not allow them to testify.  If they do testify, the judge may keep it very short.  If the judge does  not believe you they are unlikely to believe an interested witnesses.

9) You will be responsible for cross examining the Vocational Expert.  Cross examining a vocational expert can stump even a seasoned attorney, but this may be the point of making or breaking your case.  Unless all of the judge’s hypotheticals result in a finding of no work, you need to present a hypothetical to the VE on what you believe your limitations are.  You can also ask them questions about their answers to the judge.

10) Consider hiring an attorney to handle your case.  The sooner you can get an attorney involved the better chance they have at developing your case.  Many claimant’s refuse to get an attorney’s help because they do not want to give up part  of their backpay benefits as payment.  It is far better to risk losing up to 25% of your back pay (or $6,000 which ever is least) then to risk not receiving any benefits, including backpay, at all.

For assistance with your claim please feel free to contact me by phone or through my contact form.


  1. Erin, as you know, Social Security sometimes schedules video hearings where the judge will be in another state and appears by video conference equipment. If a claimant (or his attorney) would prefer a live judge, the claimant needs to object to the video hearing as soon as possible. You can’t wait until the week before the hearing to object.

    1. Jonathan,

      Your absolutely right. I forgot about VTC hearings. Whether or not to have a VTC hearing takes lots of consideration. It could mean a longer wait but on the other hand there are several problems that occur with VTC hearings including technical malfunctions and the inability for the judge to see physical problems with the claimant.