November 17, 2014

Will My Doctor Be At My Social Security Disability Appeals Hearing?

It is highly unlikely  that your treating physician will attend your Social Security disability hearing.  Unless your doctor is a personal friend you can convince to attend your hearing, your doctor in almost all cases will not be there.

First, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not require your doctor to attend.  Although some judges do call physicians to testify at hearings, those physicians are Medical Experts (MEs) paid by the SSA to examine your medical records and evaluate whether your condition is disabling under Social Security’s rules.  Will the ME at your hearing ever have examined you?  No.  Will this ME ever have even met you?  No.  The ME is supposed to give an impartial opinion regardless of the fact the SSA is paying him/her a fee to review the case and testify.  In my experience, there are good MEs and bad MEs, just like there are people who do a good job and people who do a bad job in any other profession.  In a perfect world, your doctor would be able to sit down with the judge and explain your impairments and how they affect you, but that’s most likely not going to happen.

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Second, your doctor is busy.  Even if you have a doctor who is kind and helpful, it is unrealistic to expect him or her to take time away from practicing medicine to attend your hearing.

So what can you do to ensure the judge has good information from your treating physicians?

  • Get the medical treatment you need.  Your explaining to the SSA that you have a bad back is not enough to show that you are disabled under its rules.  Social Security expects to see objective testing like x-rays or MRIs, progress notes from doctor visits, and records of medications you are taking.
  • Make sure the SSA has all of your medical records.  One of the most important parts of my job is obtaining my clients’ medical records to ensure that their Social Security record is complete.  When Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) write their decisions, they are required to point to specific medical records to support their findings.  If the ALJ doesn’t have all of your medical records, he or she probably does not have a complete picture of your impairments and how they affect you.
  • Ask your doctor for a medical source statement.  Just because the doctor is unlikely to attend your hearing doesn’t mean his or her opinions are not important.  My office strives to supplement our clients’ medical records with “medical source statements.”  We send questionnaires to our clients’ treating doctors to request their opinions about their patients’ physical and or mental limitations.  These completed questionnaires are then submitted to the ALJ along with the rest of the medical records.  If your doctor is willing to cooperate by completing these forms and providing comments to support his or her answers, it can go a long way in showing the SSA that you are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

I have practiced Social Security disability law in Indianapolis and the state of Indiana for years, and I have represented hundreds of my Indiana neighbors.  If you have questions or you are struggling with your disability claim, you can contact my office for a no cost consultation that may help you determine your eligibility for disability benefits.

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