Denial at the Hearing Level
Ok, let’s say the all too common scenario happens - you submit sufficient medical documentation to support your disability claim (including impairment questionnaires and narratives from treating physicians), testify credibly at the Social Security disability hearing, and are entitled to prevail under the law. But the ALJ, for whatever reason (having a bad day, thinking the money is coming out of his pocket, etc.) denies you SSDI or SSI benefits. What is the next step your disability lawyer should take aside from explaining the denial to you and the appeals process? Request the hearing tapes. You see with the huge volume of disability hearings conducted by the Social Security Administration, having a court stenographer at each proceeding would be fiscally impossible. So they rely on tape recordings to preserve the record of what happens for possible appellate review. In many instances, once the tapes are obtained and listened to, parts of the record will be inaudible. And in a lot of cases they can’t produce the tapes at all because they have been purportedly lost (usually when an ALJ said something during the disability benefits hearing that may reflect poorly upon him). An incomplete or missing record, when noted in a legal brief sent to the Appeals Council (that should be only one of many points touched upon) results in an almost automatic sending of the case back for a new hearing. After all, how can the Appeals Council objectively review your disability appeal when part of the record is unclear or missing? This should be pretty basic stuff for any seasoned disability attorney, but you’d be surprised at how many of them overlook it.