Medical Expert Testimony at Social Security Disability Hearings

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A Medical Expert (ME) may testify at your Social Security disability hearing in order to explain whether your impairments medically “equal” or are the functional equivalent of a medical listing contained in the Listing of Impairments (see Regulations No. 4, Subpart P, Appendix 1).  The Listing of Impairments contains over 100 medical conditions which would ordinarily prevent an individual from engaging in any gainful activity.  An ME is a neutral party and can either be a physician or mental health professional that can provide expert opinion based upon the medical evidence on record. The Administrative Law Judge assigned to your case may request the testimony of an ME to help simplify complex medical conditions and to help determine if your impairment(s) meets the requirement to render you disabled by reason of the medical impairment alone.  An ME is also helpful in providing clarity regarding a particular disease and how it affects your ability to work.

At the beginning of the hearing, the Judge administers the oath to witnesses who will testify. The Judge will then qualify the expert by asking them about his or her impartiality, expertise, professional qualifications and whether they had the opportunity to review the medical evidence and the Social Security Rules. If additional records were submitted to the Judge, it is imperative to ensure that the ME also received and reviewed the same.

The attorney will have an opportunity to cross examine the ME regarding the severity of the impairment and how you are affected by it. If the hearing is a supplemental hearing, meaning that a full hearing was previously held where the claimant previously testified, it is possible for the Judge to immediately begin direct examination of the ME without requiring you to testify once more. In either case, the attorney has the opportunity for cross-examination.

During direct examination, the Judge may ask the ME to identify the medical conditions that were present during your alleged period of disability, whether or not they meet the Social Security Listing of Impairments, and/or to identify limitations that interfere with your ability to perform basic work activities. The latter is very important, because it helps determine if you are able to sustain mental activities needed to perform work over a normal workday and workweek, on an ongoing basis.  Limitations may include: dealing with co-workers or supervisors, dealing with changes in a routine work setting, dealing with normal work stress, maintaining concentration for extended periods of time, maintaining regular attendance, or even completing a normal workweek.

It is worth mentioning that physical ailments can also affect someone’s mental health condition and it is helpful to elicit testimony from the ME regarding the same. During one of my recent hearings, the medical expert was a licensed psychologist who testified that in addition to my client’s long history of depression, the claimant had a serious physical condition requiring hospitalization that aggravated the mental health condition.  While the ME was only providing testimony for the mental component of the claim, the expert was able to testify not only to the existence of a mental impairment but also how it was exacerbated by the physical ailment.

If you have a hearing scheduled and received notice that a Vocational and/or Medical Expert will testify at your hearing, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

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