As a Social Security disability lawyer practicing for 30 years, I’m used to speaking with those seriously disabled from long-term illnesses or injuries: in some cases, wondering if they will survive long enough for benefits to be awarded. Learning of my clients’ severe medical conditions over the years of my practice has only heightened my own sense of how fragile life truly is. The sense of dread as to what was to come with COVID-19 was obvious early on for me, and my office was one of the early ones to work in a socially isolated fashion beginning early March, 2020. Fortunately, we were prepared for the electronic/cloud age for this to occur. That being said, the Federal Government was not. Continue reading
The Social Security process is a complex and cumbersome process to say the least. Without the guidance of a capable Social Security lawyer, it can become overwhelming trying to understand why things are happening the way they are, especially at your hearing. Why the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is turning to a vocational expert in the first place can be confusing. Even more upsetting to a claimant can be when you hear that vocational expert testify that you can be returning to a job such as a surveillance system monitor (with most wondering what that job even is).
For the ALJ to call a Vocational Expert (VE) to testify is a quite common practice These individuals are considered experts in the field of vocational placement of workers, with knowledge of the employment landscape both regionally (where the claimant resides) and in the national economy.
The purpose of having a VE at your hearing is to provide the presiding ALJ with an assessment of the types of past work you have performed (within the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled, called your past relevant work), your educational background and the extent to which you have acquired skills that might transfer to occupations other than what you may have performed in the past. They are then called to testify as to the availability of jobs either regionally or in the national economy that might be available for someone such as you (that is, based on your particular vocational background). Continue reading
There is nothing more stressful than waiting for your Social Security disability hearing. Assuming claim is out of Maine or Massachusetts, you have likely been waiting for the better part of 2 years to get in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) having been denied twice at the initial and reconsideration levels. Assuming your case is out of New Hampshire, you are only slightly more fortunate as you bypass a reconsideration process which carries with it a very high denial rate: and so you’ve also been waiting for what has likely been a year and a half following your initial denial.
One of the most common questions we hear leading up to our clients’ hearings is what can I do to to prepare? The first thing we will tell you that is that being nervous is normal and healthy. We would worry more if our clients weren’t worried. Obviously, you’ve been sitting at home, unable to go to work and your family’s financial resources having dwindled.
For many of our clients, their significant other/spouse is gone working during the day (many times working 2 jobs) just to make ends meet. The only thing you have to do while at home is sit and think what the future holds. Given this, it’s important to understand that there are things you can do to feel more confident going into the hearing. Continue reading
And so now you’ve been provided with your upcoming hearing date and time and you have no idea what to expect. In part II, we’ll attempt to make you feel comfortable about the hearing process itself and what you should expect on the day of your hearing.
You can expect you’ll be provided advanced notice of your hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) at least 75 days in advance. Ordinarily, 3-4 days prior to the hearing you’ll receive a recorded message explaining that you should show up to the hearing an hour in advance. It will be important to read carefully the notice of hearing you’ve been provided in the mail months in advance as it will contain important information such as where and when the hearing will be held, the items you should bring (such as a picture ID) and what issues will be addressed at hearing.
Upon arrival at the hearing office, you can expect to be met by a security guard who will check you in and will scan you for weapons. With this in mind, be sure not to bring with you anything that can be construed as a weapon: whether it be mace, a pocket knife or even needles you might require for your diabetes condition (leave this in your car, and should you need to test your sugars, plan on doing this outside of the hearing office location).
You’ve filed your Request for Hearing and now you’re playing the waiting game, wondering what to expect next in your Social Security disability claim. Whether you’re in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, the wait can be a long one. In part 1 of this blog entry we’ll fill you in as to what you can expect. In part 2, we’ll make sure you understand soup to nuts what to expect on the day of your hearing.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that whether you request a hearing following an initial denial letter out of New Hampshire, or a reconsideration denial out of Maine or Massachusetts, the hearing itself will not take place soon. The likely wait for a hearing is in the neighborhood of what can be anywhere from 8 to 12 months with the Massachusetts and New Hampshire hearing offices (although some hearings out of the Portland, Maine hearing office are still taking up to 14 months). Soon after you file your request for hearing (within ordinarily 2-4 weeks of filing your request for hearing) , you will receive a letter from Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) acknowledging the hearing office’s receipt of your file.
The initial letter from the hearing office will inform you that you will be notified as to the time and place of your hearing at least 75 days in advance of the hearing. Likewise, the letter will explain to you that in some circumstances your case can be heard more quickly and efficiently by way of videoteleconference or what is termed a VTC hearing. Should you agree to proceed by way of VTC, this will mean that your case will not be heard in person before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Instead, you will appear in front of a judge by way of a video camera, much in the same way that those charged with a crime and held in jail, might make a preliminary appearance before a judge for purposes of bail. While this process may be an expeditious one for the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) purpose, as they can assign and schedule cases before judges that are in other parts of the country that might not be as busy and can hear the case more quickly, this process is quite impersonal as you can well imagine. This is not to mention the fact that if your attorney is being asked to prepare before a judge with whom he has no familiarity, this may put your attorney and you at a disadvantage. You will be provided with only twenty (20) days to Object to Proceeding by way of VTC and so you do not want to miss this deadline. Our office always objects. Continue reading
When pursuing a Social Security disability claim, it is important to understand that the disability determination process is not a perfect one. The majority of individuals are denied on their initial application, and, at the end of the appeals process, only 1 in 3 are ultimately approved for receipt of disability benefits. When a claimant receives a partially favorable decision of their claim, which is not entirely uncommon, there are some very important considerations to take into account before deciding whether you should appeal that decision. A wrong decision can prove to be devastating.
Receiving a partially favorable decision typically involves receiving a decision that means the Social Security Administration (SSA) has found you are “disabled” as that term is defined under Social Security’s rules, but that you are being found disabled with an onset date different than the one you alleged on your application for benefits. For a Social Security disability lawyer, properly advising a claimant as to whether to appeal that decision is not always an easy one.
Initially, it may be clear that because of the need to show that one has remained disabled from a “severe medically determinable impairment” that either has met a medical listing of impairment or had remained severe and disabling such that the individual will remain disabled from all forms of gainful employment for what will be or what has been a year or longer (or is likely to result in death) that either the condition was not diagnosed or treated until a later point in time (and so the proof of the condition simply does not exist at an earlier time). This may make the decision whether to appeal much easier.
As a Social Security lawyer handling the Reconsideration process in Maine and Massachusetts (New Hampshire remains a pilot project state where a claimant goes directly to hearing), it is difficult to inform our clients of the low chance of success at the reconsideration level. However, the work to be undertaken at this level is just as important as the initial application level and can pave the way for a smooth hearing down the road (which is the likely eventuality if one has been denied initially, whether it be in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire). Continue reading
We face the same question, on a daily basis, from our prospective Maine Social Security disability clients: I have been disabled from working for a number of months, and, prior to contacting your office, I filed a disability claim. I have since been denied. Would you recommend that we appeal this denial at this time? Will you assist with our appeal?
The Social Security disability hearing process before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is meant as an opportunity to hear from you as to why you believe you’re unable to work any job for which you’re reasonably suited by age, education and experience. Given this, the ALJ is interested in finding out to what extent one remains functional both in and out of the home and, correspondingly, the extent to which one’s various medical conditions might impact one’s ability to sustain certain activities in a work setting. Continue reading
When you’ve spent the better part of two (2) years waiting for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) it is rather normal to be nervous before the hearing. Understanding what the purpose of the judge’s questions are and what the judge is looking for in the way of answers so as to properly decide your claim can help ensure that you address your answers in a way that will prove most meaningful to the ALJ that is hearing your case that day. Continue reading