Monday, July 21, 2014

Disability hearing

Just before the weekend I represented a client at a disability hearing and we were successful. The odd thing is I've never seen one before. I've read about social security disability in great detail, I've watched and listen to any course on the topic I could get my hands on. But one thing neither of those things would tell me is what happens when the doors close. What is the procedure, how does room look and where I'm supposed to be sited. I guess I would never know until I've done it once. The mechanics of a proceeding is something that I learn every time I take on a case. All I knew this time is that it was happening in a room within the Social Security Building walls, behind the  lines to windows where people dealt with their daily business.  That a judge would appear via videolink. I never quite understood why they wouldn't assign it to one in the same time zone, let alone the State.Ours was in California- with a three hour difference his day was just beginning as we were getting to our hearing at noon. As  we came up to security they seemed to expect us. One thing they didn't seem to expect however was two wheelchairs. Both I and the claimant arrived in our personal wheeled vehicles. I started sensing trouble when they told me to wait as they had to rearrange some things. And that took him a while. Then I entered the room. It was very tiny. I had to back out of there so my client could get in to the left side of the table as I was meant to be on the right. After we both got in, there wasn't enough room for the witness we brought along to be there with us. She waited outside in case the judge needed her. The table was too low for my knees to fit under it. All of this surprised me a bit. Isn't the point of a disability hearing to hear from a person with a disability? Don't they arrive in all shapes and sizes, some in wheelchairs, some- on crutches. I mean the point of the hearing is after all to determine if someone's condition is severe enough that it prevents him or her from working and justifies paying them benefits. I understand that a lawyer in a wheelchair is not something you see everyday. But SSA staff should be very familiar with the sight of a claimant in one. They should know how to make them comfortable and assist them. And set up an appropriate room with enough space. I really don't understand all this hectic remodeling while I was made to wait outside with the general public. As far as the hearing itself, the voice delay was something that took time getting used to. I took care to not interrupt the judge. He really didn't want to hear from me and started with a long speech about how people with disabilities still can work, which in the case of my client who was not in the shape to be employed came off as a bit offensive. I didn't want to be disrespectful, but I tried to let him know that some evidence was not in the record as it came in late. He was annoyed with me speaking- but I wanted to give my client the full consideration he deserved. I felt like the judge already made up his mind coming in- based on the record that took me weeks to put together- and everything else was just interfering. It took us a few weeks to get all the records together and to have the doctors write opinions in the lines of what the judge expects to see, but it was worth it. It was worth it to get the young man some resources, some level of financial independence, but also to see him vindicated in a sense- that he was right all along, that he wasn't faking, that he has a disability

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