August 20, 2019

Am I Expected to Talk at My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Am I expected to talk at my Social Security disability hearing?  At your Social Security disability hearing, you will be asked to answer questions from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The amount of time you speak and the content of your testimony will depend on your ALJ, your representative, and several other factors.  In some hearings, I have clients that wish to say as little as possible and other clients that want to say too much. When I prepare my clients for their hearings, we discuss which topics are important and which topics are irrelevant in determining whether a person is able to work. This prehearing preparation session is helpful to show my clients what type of information the ALJ is looking for. Your answers to these questions can greatly impact your chance of a favorable outcome.

If your medical record is complete prior to your hearing, the most important evidence missing is your testimony.  You are the best person to describe the pain you experience from a physical condition or the impact of your mental health on your daily life. Many ALJs will ask what type of doctors you see, the procedures you have underwent, and what your prognosis is.  ALJs will ask you questions about how long you can sit, stand, walk, and lift; they will also ask you about how you are able to perform daily activities around your home.

I think it is important to take a moment to discuss your daily activities, known as your “Activities of Daily Living.”  Many of my clients are confused as to how these questions impact their ability to work.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) is trying to see if you are doing work-like activities.  They often ask questions about your ability to clean the house, shop, drive, do yard work, cook, engage in hobbies, socialize with friends, bathe and shower, and dress yourself.  Even after I have prepared a client for these common questions, I often see them continue to answer these questions incorrectly.  For instance, let’s say the ALJ asks if you drive, and you say yes.  If you can only drive for short distances before needing to stop, then you have made a mistake by not providing the full answer. A second example would be if you answer that you are able to cook. If when you cook, you must sit in a chair or take numerous breaks to complete your task, you haven’t correctly answered the question. In summary, you should describe in detail what limitations you have, if any, in performing activities.  It can be disheartening to read an unfavorable decision from a Judge basically making you sound like the picture of perfect health because you simply answered yes to all these questions.

I believe preparing my clients for the questions they will receive at a hearing can be one of the most important aspects of representing Social Security disability claimants.  In most Social Security hearings, you will have to talk.  What you say or what you don’t say, can have an impact on getting the benefits you deserve.

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