If you are scheduled to go before a judge for a disability hearing at the Social Security Administration, Office of Hearings Operations (the Social Security “court”), you might have some questions about what the experience will be like. Often, our clients ask us, “How long does a Social Security Disability hearing last?” The answer may surprise you.
How Long is a Social Security Disability Hearing?
A Social Security Disability hearing is usually fairly short. Many last only 30-45 minutes, although some can be significantly longer.
Why are Social Security Disability hearings so short? Before the hearing date, the judge has full access to your Social Security disability file, containing application and prior appeals documents, work history information and medical records. In most situations, they have read your entire file prior to the day of the hearing, and if they feel that the evidence of record clearly points to a certain decision they may only take very brief testimony from you and the Vocational
Expert witness (VE) (particularly if it is a favorable decision). If there is conflicting or missing information in the file, the judge may require further more detailed testimony from you and or the VE to clarify the issues.
However, if a Medical Expert witness (ME) has been scheduled to testify, the hearing can be lengthier. Both the judge and your disability lawyer will have the opportunity to ask the VE hypothetical questions about the employability of a person of your age and education level, and with your medically related limitations and job experience, and the ME questions about your specific medical conditions, symptoms and limitations.
Hearings can also be significantly longer if you do not speak fluent English and require a foreign language translator to be present at the hearing (to simultaneously translate what the judge says, and what you and any other witnesses say). The Social Security Administration is required to provide you with a translator if necessary, at no cost to you. Your disability attorney will confirm with the court that the appropriate language translator has been scheduled to appear at your hearing prior to the date of the hearing.
What Else to Expect At Your Social Security Disability Hearing
If you have been to a court proceeding before, you probably think you need to dress up and look formal for your disability hearing. In actuality, Social Security disability hearings are fairly informal. Typically, your disability lawyer will suggest that you wear your everyday clothes (as long as they are presentable, clean and neat, and not too revealing), and that you should not wear too much makeup or jewelry (including manicures). Generally, hats should not be worn into the hearing room (unless they are worn as a religious requirement, the judge will normally ask you to remove it before the start of the hearing), although there can be medical exceptions in certain circumstances.
Your hearing may be conducted in person (with the judge in the same hearing room), or via video conference (VTC) with the judge in a different hearing office (with the experts being with you or the judge, or via telephone). If the hearing is by video conference, you will see the judge and any of the other video participants on a large video screen (often the size of an entire wall of the room), and they will likewise see you on a similar screen on their end, and hear everyone through a speaker system. If any of the expert witnesses or a foreign language translator are appearing by telephone, they will only be heard over the speaker system in the hearing room and you will not see them on the video screen. If the hearing is held by VTC it will still only be audio recorded, not also video recorded.
After you enter the hearing room, you will be sitting at a table opposite the judge’s bench or video screen (as will the expert witnesses if they are appearing in person). The hearing monitor will be sitting next to the judge, or in the hearing room with you during a VTC hearing. The judge may or may not be wearing judicial robes. The judge will then instruct the hearing monitor to start the audio recording of the proceedings, and they will then introduce themselves, and give a brief introduction as to the reason for the hearing and the process they will follow. Prior to taking any testimony, the judge will swear in you and any witnesses under oath or affirmation, and usually allow your attorney to make an opening statement arguing why you should be awarded disability benefits.
Next, the judge will typically call you to testify about your education and training, work experience and skills, medical conditions and treatment, and daily activities. The judge will then ask for testimony of and question the VE (and ME if called to be present). Your attorney will also have the opportunity to ask you and the VE (and ME) questions, and to make a closing statement to the judge.
Sometimes, the judge will not ask you or the experts any questions, allowing your attorney to ask all questions. The judge may also invite you to speak at the end of the hearing about anything you would like to add to what has already been testified to or discussed (you should discuss this with your attorney prior to the hearing).
What if You Are Late to your Social Security Disability Hearing?
Because Social Security Disability hearings are often very short, it is important to not be late, or you could miss it entirely! Your hearing notice will normally advise that you are required to appear at the hearing office at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start time of your hearing (and to bring your driver’s license or other form of official government issued picture ID-as you may not be allowed to proceed with your hearing without it). The judge will typically have an entire day of hearings scheduled (one scheduled every 45-60 minutes). Because of this, they may not hear your case if you are more than about 10 minutes late.
If you are late and you have an acceptable reason, the judge will reschedule your hearing for a future date.
If you miss your disability hearing all together, your case is likely to be dismissed unless you respond in a timely manner with an acceptable reason to the Notice to Show Cause that the judge will send you.
Have Questions About Your Social Security Disability Hearing?
Call or email the Law Offices of Sara J. Frankel and Associates, pc today. As an experienced and dedicated Social Security disability attorney, Sara Frankel has spent decades helping the people of Massachusetts and Rhode Island get the Social Security disability benefits they deserve. She can help you, too. Call today.
Please note that currently, due to the COVID-19 CRISIS, until further notice, ALL SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY HEARINGS ARE BEING HELD BY TELEPHONE CONFERENCE ONLY. This means that the judge, you, all experts and if necessary a translator, will be participating by telephone, with the hearing office contacting you on a pre-agreed telephone number at your home at the time of the scheduled hearing.