It depends. That is why attending the interview with the attorney is so important. That is when, at least for me, I determine whether I am going to need an additional witness or not. A lot of times, I do not need that because when you bring in a witness, the witness has to be someone that is going to add something to the record that the claimant cannot add themselves. For example, a person who has a seizure disorder, they are unconscious so they are not going to be able to describe their own seizure. You are going to need a witness to come in and describe that seizure. Or if you have a person who is a stroke victim and now has the severe cognitive deficit, memory issues, for example, you are going to need a witness to come in and help with that. Or a person was in intellectual disability with an extremely low I/Q, usually, they have difficulties expressing themselves.
You need somebody to come in and supplement the record with testimony. So, that is really determined at the time of the interview with the attorney.
How Long Does The Hearing Generally Last?
I have hearings as short as 5 minutes and as long as 2 hours. But the average takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
Do You Have Clients Who Are Perhaps Unable To Attend The Hearing In Person?
That is rare. They need to attend their hearings but I would say it is a very rare situation where a claimant can testify over the phone. I have had those situations but I can probably count them on both hands in the last 15 years.
What Do You And Your Client Do To Prepare For The Disability Hearing?
In order to prepare for a disability hearing, I prefer to meet with clients in person in order to gauge how they will present themselves to the administrative law judge. For individuals who live in remote areas or have moved away, we can hold an interview over the phone. I usually spend about an hour and a half with a client, but I will give them as much time as they need. I always let them come back for a second interview as well, especially if a person has severe memory problems or a low IQ score. There is a worksheet that I will go through with my client in order to make sure that we have all of the basic information. Then, we will go through their treatment history and I will ensure that we have all of the pertinent evidence. I will ask questions about the rapport between them and their doctors, and about any evidence that might need clarification. I will also ask a client about their daily activities, work history, and how their disability impacts their life financially and socially.
I will then attempt to reach out to any treating physicians or nurse practitioners in order to clarify my client’s functional limitations so that when it comes time to question the vocational expert at the hearing, I can pose those limitations for their consideration.
What Kind Of Information Do You Ask Your Clients To Make Available To You For These Hearings?
I ask that my clients have information regarding their medical treatment, doctors, and which hospitals or urgent care clinics they have visited. If the client has received special education services, then I will need to know which schools they have attended so that I can a try to obtain those records. If they have earnings that postdate the date that they are alleging they became unable to work, then I will have to ask for them to explain those earnings. For example, they might have evidence showing that the earnings received were from a settlement. If the client returned to school within a time period relevant to the case, then I may ask that they provide their transcripts.
If additional lay witness evidence is necessary, then I may request written statements from family members or friends. I will draft questionnaires for their treating doctors and challenge the opinions that led to the denials of the case. Sometimes we will have to refer the client to get a psychological evaluation. We will also request records and ask them to comply with our recommendations to go to the Texas Workforce Commission’s Vocational Rehabilitation program.
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by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.