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By Royce Nunley

Have you been denied disability benefits you might be entitled to under the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act?  You can appeal this decision by requesting a disability hearing, also known as a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) hearing.  These hearings, although less formal than going to court, can seem a bit overwhelming. Knowing what to expect, and also having an attorney who can prepare you for this proceeding, will be extremely helpful and will improve your chances of a successful outcome.

What To Expect at An Administrative Disability Hearing

A disability hearing is a legal proceeding.  The hearing will not be open to the public.  The individuals that will be at the hearing will be you as the claimant, your attorney or representative, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), a court reporter, and any expert witnesses. The hearing will commence with an opening statement from the ALJ that sets out the purpose of the hearing and the issues to be considered. 

The ALJ might have expert witnesses at the hearing, such as vocational experts (who can testify as to the type of work you might still be able to do) or medical experts (who can interpret your medical records and give an opinion on your physical or mental limitations). After all of the testimony and evidence have been presented, the ALJ  may make a closing statement summarizing the case and the evidence that was presented. The ALJ does not issue the decision at the hearing but will review all of the evidence and testimony, and then issue a written decision. The decision is mailed to you and your attorney, typically within 1-3 months but this can vary.

An ALJ’s decision as to whether a claimant is disabled and entitled to Social Security benefits will be based on the claimant’s ability to perform certain tasks at his or her job. The determination does not consider whether the claimant will be hired, but rather that he would not be able to perform the tasks if he were hired. 

Some Tips on How To Prepare for a Disability Hearing

  • Consider Hiring a Disability Attorney: Before the hearing, consider hiring a disability attorney who can help prepare you for the hearing, as well as effectively present your case. An attorney will review your medical history, work history, and other evidence and will let you know what you can expect during the hearing.
  • Have Your Attorney Prepare a Pre-Hearing Brief: Although it is not required that your attorney draft a pre-hearing brief for the ALJ to review, most ALJs will undoubtedly appreciate it if one is filed. Pre-hearing briefs act as an outline of the disability claim and can provide the ALJ with valuable information to look at before, or at the time of, the hearing.
  • Gather Medical Documentation: You, along with your attorney, will want to gather strong medical evidence since the medical evidence is the foundation of your disability claim. Make sure that you have comprehensive and up-to-date medical records from all relevant healthcare providers. These records should clearly outline your disability, the treatments you’ve received, and the impact on your daily life and ability to work. Be prepared to show how you have been following the prescribed treatments. This shows that you are actively trying to improve your condition and that you are taking your health seriously.
  • Testimony: You will be asked to testify about your condition and how it affects your daily life and ability to work. Your disability attorney can also ask you questions. The ALJ may also ask you to clarify certain points.

    Throughout the disability hearing process, it is essential to be truthful and maintain consistency in your statements to both medical professionals and during the hearing itself, as discrepancies can jeopardize your credibility. Preparation is key: familiarize yourself with the hearing’s format, anticipate questions about your medical condition, and rehearse explanations about your daily limitations. Approach the hearing with the gravitas it demands, dressing professionally and extending respect to all present, including the judge and witnesses. Your testimony should focus on illustrating how your disability hinders daily and work-related activities, using specific instances as evidence.

    Given the brief nature of hearings, answers should be succinct and relevant. Furthermore, equip yourself with a clear understanding of the specific disability criteria relevant to the program you’re applying for, recognizing that programs like SSDI and SSI might have distinct eligibility stipulations.
  • Closing Statement: After all the testimony and evidence have been presented, your attorney may make a closing statement (in addition to the ALJ who will summarize the case) and will outline the reasons why you should be found disabled under Social Security’s rules.

Contact Our Michigan Disability Hearing Attorney Today

Remember that every case is unique, and the success of your disability hearing will depend on the strength of your evidence and how well you present your case. Don’t be discouraged If your initial claim is denied. Many applicants are approved at the appeals stage.  To ensure your case is presented in the best way, you should consult an attorney skilled in disability law. Nunley Law Group PLLC can explain the specific rules and procedures in the Michigan area and navigate you through the entire hearing process. Book a free consultation with us today to learn more.

About the Author
Royce Nunley practices in the areas of Family Law, Criminal Law, Social Security, and Personal Injury law. Royce graduated Cum Laude from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. He continued his education at Wayne Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate Cum Laude. Named to Superlawyer’s “rising stars” in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 for his work in Family Law.