You probably have seen television or movie depictions of courtrooms, so you may expect your Social Security disability hearing to take place in a big, old courthouse with lots of pomp and circumstance.
Every hearing is different, but if you have a disability hearing scheduled in Buffalo, New York, your hearing will be held at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) located at 50 Fountain Plaza, Suite 200, Buffalo, New York. The Buffalo ODAR is on the second floor of a regular downtown office building.
As you leave the elevator on the second floor , you will check in at the office window. The staff member will confirm that you have a hearing and will usually give you a CD that contains your disability claim file. (However, if you have an attorney or authorized representative, he or she will receive the CD). If you want to look at the medical records and other documents that Social Security has collected regarding your case, you can asked to be shown to a private room with a computer where you can examine your file. Before entering the waiting area you must go through security. There is a guard who is there for your safety as well as that of the Social Security staff and Administrative Law Judges(ALJs). The security guard will ask you for valid picture identification card, or passport. Before the date of your hearing, make sure your identification card has not expired! Also be prepared to empty all your pockets and remove your hat if you are wearing one. You will be scanned with a metal detector, and the security guard will inspect any bags or purses you are carrying with you. You may not carry deadly weapons, such as guns and knives, into the Social Security office. Women carrying pepper spray in their purses will also be turned away. If you have any of these items with you when you come to the hearing office, you will most likely be asked to return them to your vehicle.
Once you have gone through security find a seat in the waiting area and wait for your attorney or representative to arrive.
Once the ALJ is ready, the hearing reporter will lead you to a hearing room. The hearings are closed to the public, so the rooms aren’t very big. The judge typically sits at a raised desk and everyone else is seated around a table in front of the judge. You will have a microphone in front of you , but it won’t make your voice louder. The judge will speak directly to you and ask you some questions and then allow your attorney or representative to ask questions. The hearings are designed to be fairly informal, so there should not be people jumping up to object or make motions during your testimony. The only people who will likely ask you questions are the judge and your own representative; there is no opposing counsel who will cross-examine you. Hearings generally last between forty-five minutes and an hour. You should show respect to the Administrative Law Judge by addressing him/her as “Your Honor”, “Judge”, Ma’am”, or “Sir”. It is also important to make sure you understand the judge’s question before you answer it- do not try to talk over the judge, and always ask for clarification if the question is confusing or hard to hear. In addition to your testimony, the ALJ may take testimony from some experts who have reviewed your case, such as a Medical Expert (ME) and/or a Vocational Expert (VE).
Most of the time, when your hearing ends you do not know how the ALJ is going to decide. He or she will most likely review the evidence once more after having the opportunity to hear your testimony, and the he or she will write a decision. Social Security will mail a copy of the written decision to you as well as to your lawyer or representative. The ALJ will typically tell you that a decision will be issued within thirty to ninety days. This waiting time can be increased if the judge needs to obtain additional evidence after the hearing. Unfortunately, there is no deadline the judges have to meet in writing their decisions, so sometimes the wait for a decision can stretch out several months.
What I’ve described in this blog is simply a snapshot of how things might go on your hearing date. There are many variables involved in a Social Security disability hearing. It may be in your best interest to talk to an attorney or representative to better prepare you for your day in court. Please call us at 636-7600.