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The Particulars of the ALJ Hearing Process in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire

Waiting for your hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is never easy, and made even more difficult a process if you’re not receiving the advice you need about the process from an experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that once you request your hearing before an ALJ that you will receive an acknowledgement notice from the hearing office that alerts you to which office has received your hearing request and file. They will inform you by way of this notice that you will be contacted regarding the scheduling of your hearing at least 90 days in advance of the hearing date set for your case. This does not mean, however, that your case will be scheduled any time soon. As of the end of 2015, it is taking 11 months from the time you’ve requested your hearing until the time of yiour scheduled hearing if your case is out of the Springfield, MA office, 12 months to get to a hearing if your case is out of the Boston, MA Office of Disability Adjudication of Review (ODAR), 14 months if you’re waiting for a hearing out of the Manchester, NH ODAR, 16 months if your hearing is being held out of Lawrence, MA ODAR and, presently, 17 months if your case is being handled by the Portland, ME ODAR. You will be given a very short opportunity to object to proceeding by way of VTC (Video Teleconferencing), and it is almost always advisable for your attorney to object to proceeding by way of this impersonal process.

Likewise, it is important as one is waiting for hearing to understand the importance of maintaining consistent treatment with your doctors. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) the hearing office will expect to see that you are doing everything possible to get better and that, notwithstanding your zealous treatment efforts, you remain totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment and 2) it will be important to have objective documentation from your doctors showing that your condition remains severe and disabling (in fact, our office will in many instances obtain updated medical reports from your doctors that will indicate the extent to which your medical condition(s) have changed since the time we obtained a report from their office; thus their continued examination and treatment of you is essential).

The hearing procedure, assuming it becomes necessary to attend a hearing (and a pre-hearing brief, such as is always undertaken by our office is not successful in obtaining for you disability benefits prior to the need to proceed to hearing), will require your attendance with your lawyer in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Your Social Security Lawyer should be advising you that you will be receiving a reminder call from the hearing office in the days leading up to the hearing informing you to come to the hearing office at least an hour prior to the hearing and to bring with you identification. It will be important that you dress appropriately for the hearing (out of respect for the judge you’ll be appearing in front of): however, one should always dress so as to accommodate their medical conditions. Thus, if you require sneakers as it’s not comfortable to walk around in dress shoes or heels, then sneakers should be worn so as to accommodate your condition. Likewise, it is important that you not bring to the hearing anything that can be construed as a weapon: even a pocket knife or mace should not be brought to a hearing site. Once you arrive to the hearing office, you will be scanned for weapons and will be required to sign in.

Your hearing will be held in a private hearing room, usually not much bigger than an office conference room. The hearing is not open to the public. In fact, in order to have even a friend or spouse in the room for support at the time of your testimony requires clearance from the ALJ who will be hearing your case. In most instances, we advise our clients to keep support persons (that is to say, spouses, significant others, friends, relatives, etc.) in the waiting room (rather than having them in the hearing room during your testimony). There are multiple reasons for advising this, not the least of which is that many times claimants become concerned about what their friend/relative will be think about their testimony and this may cause them to avoid discussing certain topics out of concern for the feelings of their friend/relative or out of sheer embarrassment. One of the reasons the hearings are not open to the public is that the hearings involve the testimony of very personal and sensitive issues and the rules are meant to allow claimants to feel totally comfortable expressing their issues in a confidential environment. Certainly, many of the issues that are bound to come up in these hearings can be cause for feelings of embarrassment or insecurity, and may not be issues one would feel comfortable talking about with a stranger (nonetheless a friend of family member).

At the beginning of the hearing, the ALJ assigned to your case will introduce themselves as well as any others in the room with them: this will certainly include their hearing assistant (who ordinarily comes to see you prior to bringing you to the hearing room, and brings you into the hearing room once the judge is ready for hearing). The ALJ may also call expert witnesses of his own to testify, which may include a vocational expert and/or a medical expert. A vocational expert may be called to testify so as to assist the judge with an understanding of your past relevant work history (that is to say, the work you performed in the 15 years prior to becoming disabled) and your educational background so the judge can have a sense of the requirements of your past work. The ALJ may also want testimony from the vocational expert as to how a set of functional limitations (s)he assigns may impact your ability to work both your past relevant and other manner of work that exists in the national economy. A medical expert may also be called to testify as to the nature of your medical conditions, providing the ALJ with information as to nature and severity of your medical condition(s), including what conditions you’ve been diagnosed with, the objective findings contained within the record concerning your condition(s) and to what extent the findings in the medical record support a finding that you meet or equal in severity one of Social Security’s Listings of Impairments.

In some circumstances, the ALJ may undertake the majority of the questioning (but will always allow your attorney an opportunity to ask questions themselves of both you and any experts called by the ALJ to testify). In other circumstances you will see that the presiding ALJ will leave the majority of the questioning to your Social Security Lawyer. Likewise, the ALJ may invite your attorney to present an opening statement or argument in support of your claim and, at the end of the testimony, may invite your attorney to make a closing statement at that time. In most circumstances, the ALJ will close the evidence at the end of the hearing and will inform you that a written decision can be expected with a short time following the hearing (which will be sent to both you and your attorney). In some circumstances, it may be necessary for additional evidence to be obtained and submitted, or for an additional hearing to be held. In other, very rare circumstances where a fully favorable decision is deemed clear and warranted, you may see an ALJ provide what is called a “bench decision”: in this circumstance, the ALJ will recite the reasons for his fully favorable decision at the very end of the hearing and will in this way expedite the processing of your claim.

When it is time for you to proceed to through the administrative hearing process, it is important that you obtain the assistance of a Social Security Lawyer that has handled 1000’s of cases over the course of 33 years. Call now the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at (800) 773-8622 for the experience you need to get the benefits you deserve.