April 10, 2013

Is it a Good Idea To Continue My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Sometimes it is necessary to think about continuing, or postponing, your disability hearing.  As a disability attorney, I generally do not like to continue hearings.  Because the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have such crowded schedules, we have to wait a long time to get to a hearing, and rescheduling a hearing often means even more months of waiting before we finally get in front of the judge.  In my experience, most judges do not want to continue hearings either.  They want to keep things moving along quickly once a case gets to the hearing level.

One reason an ALJ does not like to continue a Social Security disability hearing, especially on the day of the hearing, is because a lot of resources have been expended in preparing to hear the case.  Many hearings include vocational and medical experts paid by the Social Security Administration who have reviewed the case file and are ready to testify that day.  If the hearing is rescheduled, all of those experts will have to return to testify on another day.

Why, then, would a judge consider rescheduling a hearing?  Oftentimes it is because the case file does not contain all of the claimant’s medical records.  Your medical records are a very important part of your case because they provide hard evidence of your diagnoses, symptoms, and prognosis.  Without all of your records, the ALJ will not be able to get a complete picture of your medical conditions.  If all of your records are not available in time for the hearing, though, the ALJ will often proceed with the hearing, taking your testimony and the testimony of any experts present.  The judge will then hold the record open for a specific amount of time so that the additional medical documents can be furnished at a later date.

In my experience, a continuance is the best option if important medical records have not yet been submitted and a medical expert is scheduled to testify at your hearing.  The medical expert’s role at the hearing is to give his opinion about your impairments and your ability to work based on his review of your records.  If he does not have all the records available to him, his opinion may not reflect all of your impairments and symptoms.  In my office, one of the most important things we do is to make sure all of our clients’ medical records have been submitted well in advance of their hearings.  However, sometimes we aren’t able to get them all submitted in time, perhaps because our client did not provide information to us in a timely manner or because the medical provider was uncooperative with our request for records.

Some ALJs do not have medical experts testify at the Social Security disability appeal hearing, and in my opinion it is not necessary to request a continuance of those hearings if all of the records are not submitted in time for the hearing.  These judges feel they can make medical determinations about your impairments and limitations without the testimony of a medical expert.  These judges use the hearing to take testimony from the claimant and the vocational expert, and then examine the medical records themselves to help them make a decision in the case.

Not having a complete medical file is not the only reason that may cause an ALJ to consider continuing a hearing, but in my experience as an Indiana disability attorney it is one of the most common reasons.  What can you do to help make sure your hearing is not continued?  Work closely with your attorney or representative to submit medical evidence in a timely fashion, and be as complete as possible when providing information about your medical providers.  Please note that the foregoing has been provided for your information only and does not constitute legal advice.  At the Law Office of Scott D. Lewis LLC my goal is to provide support, advice, and guidance to each of my clients as they navigate the long and sometimes confusing disability appeals process.

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