Since stress about your Social Security benefits hearing is about the unknown (beyond whether you will be approved or not), the more you know about your hearing day the better. Your attorney can explain where your hearing is, who will be there, and how long it may take. He or she should also explain the point of your hearing, and (with sufficient experience) possibly let you know your chances of approval. First, your hearing location.
Where is my Hearing?
Once the hearing office schedules your hearing, you (and your attorney) should get a letter explaining the time and place of your hearing (your “hearing notice”). Whether you have an attorney or not, you can drive to the location on a weekday a few days ahead of time to verify where it will be held. (A weekday is important because some hearing locations may not be open on weekends.) Once there, look at the surroundings. Know which floor and area to go to. Also anticipate practical concerns such as parking. These steps lower stress on your hearing day.
Visiting your hearing site before your hearing day is also useful because hearings are not always where you expect them – even knowing the address. Hearings aren’t always at a courthouse or a government center. And don’t assume your hearing is where you may have originally signed up for benefits. Hearings can, however, be in private office buildings, courthouses, city hall conference rooms, or even hotel conference rooms. I even attended one in a hotel room with the beds moved and tables set up! (For the record, it wasn’t very comfortable). So, pay close attention to the address and time of your hearing on your Sonavel hearing notice.
I ask my clients to arrive at their hearings an hour earlier than the scheduled hearing time on the hearing day to avoid last minute problems. I had one client who got a flat tire on his way to his hearing, but was able to get help to change it and arrive at his hearing before the scheduled time!
A hearing tip: You may find the main hearing office phone number on the hearing notice. Wherever your hearing is (at a main location or at a remote location), you can keep this number handy to call and ask directions if you are stuck.
A final note about your hearing location. If you need to drive a distance that will be difficult for you, consider staying overnight at a hotel near (or at) your hearing location. It may be worth the cost to know that you will not miss your hearing the next day. (If you drive over 75 miles each way, check ahead with the hearing office about possible reimbursement for travel and the hotel). Our discussion next turns to who is at your hearing.
Who’s at my Hearing?
Another way to reduce the stress about your Social Security benefits hearing is to know who will be there. Your hearing notice can list the experts the judge wants at your hearing. Below is a list of the people at Social Security hearings and their roles. Keep in mind that one or both experts listed below may not be at your hearing.
(1) The Judge. There will always be a Social Security administration law judge (“ALJ”) running your hearing. He or she will almost always appear in person, though the judge can appear through live video or (rarely) by phone only. The judge needs to ask you questions about your past work, your medical problems that affect your ability to work, and your day-to-day symptoms.
(2) Hearing Assistant. The hearing assistant helps the judge record the hearing. He or she is physically at the hearing site. Among other things, the hearing assistant gathers last minute paperwork from you, brings you into the hearing room, and shows you where to sit. Only very rarely have I attended hearings without a hearing assistant on site. The only one I can recall was a hearing for a prisoner in the prison’s cafeteria. My client did not have any trouble finding that hearing location.