If the SSA has denied both your initial disability claim and your request for reconsideration, you’re probably feeling discouraged. After all the time you spent working on your application and waiting to hear back, not to mention the unforeseeable and life-altering long-term coronavirus symptoms you’ve been experiencing, a denied disability claim can be a major blow.
There’s no need to lose hope quite yet though.
The next step in the process of seeking Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a hearing. Over half of claimants with attorneys or advocates are successful in their hearings. With proper preparation and an experienced disability lawyer, you have a good chance of approval for benefits.
This article will explain everything you need to do to be properly prepared for your disability hearing.
Coronavirus and Disability Claims
After receiving that initial denial, you may be concerned. COVID-19 is a new condition, and disability law is difficult to navigate. Rest assured, if you are a COVID long-hauler or have experienced debilitating symptoms resulting from complications of COVID-19, there is a good chance you qualify for disability accommodations or insurance.
The ADA defines a disability as any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Long-term coronavirus symptoms you may experience include fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, ongoing neurological symptoms. They also include newly acquired or exacerbated mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
If any of these symptoms limit your daily activities and impede your ability to work, they qualify as a disability.
Some states, including New York, have specifically stated that disability law covers COVID cases.
If you contracted coronavirus at work, you may be wondering if you can file for workers’ compensation. The laws around this topic are less definitive at this stage. However, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have either already passed or are working to pass laws protecting certain classes of workers. Get in touch with our Springfield disability attorney to learn more about the specifics of your case.
Documentation to Prepare
Begin preparing for your disability hearing as soon as possible. If you have already received a date for your hearing, you should start now.
The most important documentation to get together for your hearing is up-to-date medical records. Ask any doctors who are treating you for your coronavirus-related symptoms to supply these as soon as possible.
Current medical records may be the most helpful materials in your hearing. They provide new evidence of ongoing, and potentially worsening, disability.
Ask for written statements from anyone who is aware of how your COVID symptoms have impacted you and your ability to work. This could include family or former employers.
Your doctor should provide a written statement along with your current medical records. Your doctor’s statement should be more technical and describe your functional limitations. These are activities you are physically or mentally unable to do.
You will also need to send in information about your work history and some financial documents. You should consult with your attorney to make sure you are providing all the necessary paperwork.
What Will the Disability Hearing Be Like?
Currently, all Social Security Administration Hearing Offices are conducting hearings exclusively via telephone as a coronavirus safety measure. This means you will be able to attend your hearing safely from a space you are comfortable.
Hearings are overseen by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and are closed to the public. The only other attendees will be you (the claimant), your attorney, a court reporter, and possibly an expert witness or two (more on them later).
Thankfully, these hearings are more like discussions than the adversarial trials that come to mind when you picture the courthouse. You are not on trial, and no opposing attorney is attempting to disprove your claim. The ALJ is trying to gain a fuller understanding of the situation and to hear your words from you.
The hearing will last approximately 30-60 minutes and will consist primarily of the ALJ asking you questions. Your lawyer may also make statements on your behalf and ask you additional questions. Your lawyer will ensure that the ALJ hears a comprehensive description of the impact of your coronavirus symptoms on your life.
There are two types of expert witnesses that may provide testimony in your hearing: a medical expert and a vocational expert.
If a medical expert is called to testify in your hearing, the ALJ will ask them to examine your medical records. From these records, they may provide a professional opinion about whether you fit certain diagnostic criteria. They also might provide an opinion about whether you are unable to perform certain kinds of work.
A physician or a psychiatrist is the most likely type of medical expert to appear at your COVID-19 hearing. Which one will depend on the types of symptoms that most affect you.
If a vocational expert is present at your hearing, the ALJ will ask them questions about the physical and mental requirements of your previous job. They will also answer questions about your ability to perform these duties after contracting coronavirus. They will testify about any other jobs that you may be able to perform based on your age, education, and experience.
The ALJ may ask the vocational expert about whether or not your previous job left you with any transferable skills. Transferable skills are acquired knowledge that you could use in a different position, one you are capable of maintaining with your symptoms.
The vocational expert and the ALJ will also keep in mind the availability of these types of jobs in the current national and local economies. Employment availability has, of course, been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as well, which should be factored into your case.
What Questions to Expect
The questions asked in your disability hearing will be tailored to your individual claim. Your attorney can help walk you through the questions your ALJ is most likely to ask.
You should practice answers and take notes about the questions you expect to answer. This will calm your nerves as you will be sure that you are prepared. It will also ensure you don’t forget any important information in the moment.
In general, you can expect to be asked questions about your work history, earnings, past job duties, coronavirus-related symptoms, lifestyle limitations due to those symptoms, and medical treatment.
Here are some general examples of questions your ALJ may ask you in each of these categories.
- What types of positions have you previously held?
- How long were you working before you left your position due to coronavirus?
- How long did it take you to learn how to do that job?
- Have you tried to work again since you left that position? How did that go?
- Have you had any income since you initially stopped working?
- If so, where has that income come from?
- Has any of it been from employment?
Past Job Duties
- Did you operate machinery, tools, or equipment at your previous job?
- Did you have to push or pull anything?
- Did you have to lift objects? How heavy were they?
- How often were you sitting, standing, and walking?
- How have your daily activities changed since you contracted COVID-19?
- Are you able to take care of yourself and your home without assistance?
- What treatment(s) have you tried? Have any of them helped?
- What medication(s) are you currently taking? What are its side effects?
Questions about your individual symptoms and how they impact your life will be of primary focus. Those questions will be very individualized and are difficult to capture here.
When to Expect a Decision
The ALJ will not make an immediate decision on the day of your hearing. You will receive written notification of the ALJ’s decision by mail approximately 1-2 months after your hearing.
The length of time you spend waiting for a response could be even greater. It depends on the number of claims the Social Security Administration is processing at the time.
How to Be Most Prepared
The idea of going through a hearing can be intimidating. If your coronavirus symptoms are causing long-term disability, however you should not give up after an initial denial. The number one way to make sure you’re prepared to move forward is to hire a skilled disability lawyer.
A lawyer will be able to look over your initial claim and see why it might have been denied. They will then be able to help you find proper documentation and make sure your claim is heard in full on the day of your disability hearing.
Here at Hermann Law Group, we have over 50 years of experience in disability law. With one of our attorneys, you can be confident that you have expert guidance. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.