Social Security Disability adjudication hearings contain a great deal of legal jargon that most claimants do not understand. This is why it is never recommended for a claimant to appear before an administrative law judge without legal representation.
The Social Security Administration has created a glossary of commonly used terms to assist claimants. While participating in an adjudication hearing, a disability claimant may hear any, or all, of the following terms spoken by either a judge, vocational expert, or medical expert:
Alleged onset date - The date that a person claims to have become disabled.
Date last insured - The date on which a person last qualified for coverage by Social Security Disability. This date is based on work credits earned by a claimant over the years of employment.
Substantial gainful activity - The amount of income a claimant earned in any quarter. This is a monthly amount set by the SSA each year. If a claimant earns more than that amount in any month during which they claimed to be disabled, they will likely be considered gainfully employed and ineligible for benefits. In cases where claimants have worked, or are still working, it is highly recommended that legal counsel be consulted prior to a hearing date.
Hypothetical - An ALJ will present several hypothetical work scenarios to a vocational expert based on medical records, claimant testimony, past work, and necessary restrictions. The expert will then determine whether the individual would be able to hold down an eight hour per day, 40 hour per week job, and, if so, whether such jobs currently exist in the national economy.
In summary, a Social Security Disability hearing is made up of more than just a claimant telling their own story. It is not uncommon for someone to enter a hearing without legal representation, only to quickly find that they are in over their head and unsure of what to say.