Pain and Your Social Security Disability Hearing

I have found through many years of practicing disability law that each person’s experience of pain is unique.  I have noticed that some of my clients who have similar diagnoses and test results describe the nature and intensity of their pain very differently, and their pain affects each one’s ability to complete daily activities to a different degree.  I believe it is important when testifying at your Indiana disability hearing to be realistic about how your pain feels and how severe your pain is. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing has access to your medical records and is aware of your diagnoses and test results; he will listen to your descriptions of your pain and try to decide if they are consistent with the information in your records.

Many times at hearings, the ALJ or your representative will give you a “pain scale” to rate the severity of the pain you experience. A typical pain scale will describe “0” as no pain at all and a “10” as pain so bad you have to go to the hospital.  The ALJ will then ask you to assess your pain on a typical day after you have taken your prescribed medications.  Even when my clients deal with severe pain every day, I tell them to think hard before telling the judge that they experience pain at a “10” on an average day, unless they really do go to the emergency room several times a week.  If the ALJ thinks you are exaggerating your pain symptoms at your hearing, he might not believe other parts of your testimony, either.  In my opinion, it is important to tell the truth at your hearing.  These judges have presided over numerous hearings and have a lot of experience deciding whether people are being honest with them, and they factor that honesty into their decision-making process.

At your hearing, you will probably be asked how long you can sit, stand, and walk at a time.  The ALJ needs this information because it helps him determine how much of a work day you could spend doing those things, given your disabling conditions.  If you are asked, “How long can you stand up at a time before you have to sit down?” it is not very helpful to the judge if you respond, “Not very long,” or “For a little while.”  I advise my clients to do their best to give a time estimate based on their daily activities.  Think about how long you are able to stand in line at the store or how far you have to walk to get your mail, and how doing these things affects you.  If you can give the judge a solid answer and explain why you chose that answer, in my experience it helps the judge get a clear picture of how your impairments limit you.

The preceding is not intended as legal advice and is provided based on my experiences as an Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney.

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