July 6, 2018

What Are You Going to Say at Your Social Security Disability Hearing?

Your words matter at a Social Security Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income hearing.  The way you answer questions and the information you offer can impact the decision of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  My staff and I try to prepare each one of my clients for their day in court.  Some of my clients listen to me carefully and some do not.  This blog contains some of my experiences representing clients in thousands of disability hearings and is not intended as legal advice.

You have waited for what seems like forever to finally be heard in court.  Chances are you have a lot to say, and you cannot wait to give the ALJ an earful about your disabilities.  While this is common, you must remember the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the ALJ that hears your case has a very precise game plan for how they are going to analyze your case.  For a seasoned disability lawyer, the questions are usually very predictable.  If your attorney has experience with an ALJ, they can usually guide you through what is important and prepare you adequately.

In my experience, there are four broad areas that you may be asked about, but all ALJs can differ:

  • Background questions- these can be easy and include basic information such as your age, education, marital status, living arrangement, height, weight, dominant hand, financial situation, and other personal questions.
  • Past employment- the SSA is required to go back 15 years and examine your old jobs to determine whether you can return to any past jobs with your current disabilities. Questions here can include job titles, duties, exertional requirements, and other job-related questions
  • What are your disabling conditions? This is usually the longest set of questions and can include medical treatment you are receiving; procedures you have had; pain you suffer; limitations in standing, walking, sitting, and lifting; or mental conditions, among many other questions.
  • Activities of daily living- these questions can include whether you can clean your house, grocery shop, cook, do laundry, drive, bathe or shower, dine out, or have hobbies and other similar questions. This is where some of my clients make errors regardless of how much I prepare them.  They do not fully answer the questions they are asked.  If the ALJ asks if you can drive and you simply answer “Yes,” but fail to tell the ALJ specific difficulties, such as only driving short distances or that it is very painful, you may be doing yourself an injustice by not providing enough detail.  The same goes for any of the other above activities.  You should describe to the ALJ in detail all limitations you have when performing these activities. Many ALJs believe these things are work-like activities, and if they believe you can do them without difficulty, you can also hold down a full-time job.

Your answers matter at a disability hearing.  It is important to stay focused and on topic.  As I stated earlier, there is a set series of questions the ALJ or your attorney are usually trying to get answered to show a finding of disability.  Some things I see clients do to hurt their case is trying to avoid answering questions, talking excessively about things that are not pertinent to their case, being argumentative with the ALJ, and exaggerating their pain.  Talking to an experienced attorney and following their advice may help you better understand what is most important in your Social Security Disability claim.

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