Understanding Social Security Disability Appeals: After the Initial Application Denial

by Michael P. Boyle, Esq.

If your application for disability or SSI benefits is denied at the initial stage, you have the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Unlike proceedings in most other courtrooms, there is no lawyer present at the hearing who represents the Social Security Administration. While the administrative proceeding is considered informal, you are still in a court of law. The proceedings are recorded in order to preserve the testimony in the event of an appeal. Everything you say will be on the record.

Hearing testimony will focus primarily on the following areas:

1) your work history during the last fifteen years, including exertional levels, whether work amounted to substantial gainful activity and was performed at skilled or semi-skilled levels, and whether you gained any skills transferable to other kinds of work;

2) how your medical impairments affect your ability to perform physical activities, including your capacity to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, reach, handle, finger, bend, stoop, climb, crawl, kneel, squat, and function when exposed to environmental irritants; and mental limitations that impact on concentration, attention, social functioning, and activities of daily living (ADL);

3) your ability to perform ADL; pain and its effect on functioning; medications you take and their side effects, if any; and why you feel you cannot return to your past work or perform other work;

4) medical expert (ME) testimony regarding whether your impairments meet or equal one or more of the Listing of Impairments; keep in mind that the ALJ has the discretion whether to schedule ME testimony, meaning that one may not appear at your hearing;

5) vocational expert (VE) testimony about your work history, and whether you can return to past relevant work or perform other work that exists in substantial numbers in the national economy when considering your residual functional capacity, age, education, and work history.