What to Expect from Your Lawyer Prior to the Hearing
After what is generally referred to as the intake interview or initial assessment process, you should be aware of exactly why the Social Security Administration and Disability Review denied your claim and how the advocate intends to address it. Notice I said “strengths and weakness.”
Every application for disability benefits has both merits and shortcomings. A claim very rarely goes to the hearing stage without there being at least two areas where either the medical evidence or vocational documentation is a problem for you and the advocate. Don’t take it personally or as a sign of disbelief in the overall merit of your claim if your Tampa disability hearing lawyer points out to you events or a record of treatment history that don’t seem to fully support a finding you are disabled.
Any case where everything clearly points to a finding of disabled does not reach the hearing level. In fact, if an advocate cannot show you sections of the record or medical evidence that is against a finding of disability, then that lawyer is not in the best position to obtain a favorable decision at the hearing. A basic tenet of good representation is one cannot defend against what she does not see. Be prepared to have the advocate tell you what he sees as the questionable aspects of your case and if the advocate does not tell in the days leading up to the hearing, ask him or her point blank.
Evidence in File
Few things are more disappointing to the advocate and you than getting to the hearing and discovering that medical or job history evidence is not in the file. You should know before the hearing date at least a summary of every exhibit in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) file. It’s not necessary that the lawyer show it to you but an experienced and concerned advocate should let you know the sum and substance of all important exhibits so there are no surprises at the hearing.
You also should expect your lawyer will tell you what the Consultative Examiner said about your condition. Consultative Examiner (also known as CEs) are doctors paid by the Social Security Administration to review and assess medical aspects of a disability claim. Your lawyer should tell you how what the CE said and how it compares to what your own doctors have reported and how your lawyer plans to address any discrepancies.
Other potentially challenging aspects of medical records are dealing with who is actually responsible for getting them and who pays whatever cost is involved. Once again, the matter of costs is usually covered by the client retainer agreement. Most medical records in some states can be obtained for free or at low costs, but it is best to know before the hearing what if any costs are to be paid and by whom.
In the weeks before the hearing, you should know if the advocate intends to submit a medical or physiological assessment to your doctor and if you need to be present when the assessment is done. It is my belief that nearly every case would benefit from a detailed statement from the claimant’s treating physician as to how her condition prevents her from doing work-related activities on a sustained basis. It works best if you are prepared to hand it to the physician yourself and have some idea of when it will be completed.
Office Contact Person
One of the things you should know prior to your hearing is who the office contact person is; it probably won’t be the lawyer or the advocate who will actually represent you at the hearing. But you should know who is responsible in the office for getting your medical records and fielding questions about the progress of your case. You want and should expect your lawyer’s office to speak with one voice in dealing with your health care providers and SSA. Just as importantly, you want to be in harmony with the message from the person who is actually charged with handling your files in the early stages. An additional consideration is having one person to speak to reduces having to repeat yourself and limits the chances for miscommunication.
Critical Hearing Details
Shortly after you receive the Notice of Hearing you should get a call from your lawyer. That conversation will deal with the details of the hearing such as:
— What experts if any will be in attendance
— What time to arrive at the hearing
— If you need to bring a list of your current medications or the medications themselves, and
— What witnesses might appear on your behalf
The vital part of this early call is about what questions to expect at the hearing. The major areas to be covered usually include medical history, job history and daily activities. Your lawyer needs to go over what your answers will be. This is an opportunity for you to practice giving clear, consistent answers as to why you left your last employment and why you can’t do any other suitable work in the national economy.
Your lawyer will use this conversation as chance to gauge how you will respond to the pressure of the situation. It’s the advocate’s job to put you in the best position to present your case. Some claimant s can handle the questions without harming their own case.
It’s important the lawyer protect you by directing the hearing in a fashion that allows you to answer the questions expected at the hearing in a natural manner while at the same time avoiding or explaining areas that are troublesome for you. This cannot be done unless the lawyer has spoken with you at least twice before the hearing. Before the hearing gets started you should know just how the attorney expects you to handle the expected line of questioning from the administrative law judge, the experts and the attorney himself.
Mike Murburg, an experienced Tampa disability hearing lawyer, will explain the issues in your claim and help you present the best case possible. 813-264-5363.