Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing
Here are some tips that will help you avoid common mistakes made by claimants at your Social Security disability hearing. Your attorney can add particulars about the administrative law judge conducting the hearing.
Wear casual, neutral clothing. You should not wear anything with emblems or logos of various organizations. For example, an NRA or Pheasants Forever t-shirt can lead to a line of questioning about whether you are currently a hunter, which is a fairly strenuous activity, requiring walking long distances, climbing, etc.
Perfect hair, makeup, and manicured nails can lead a judge to think that you can spend extensive time doing these activities and that you may have spent money on these items. This is especially important if you have alleged that you have trouble reaching above shoulder level or doing fine motor activities. If you also wear a lot of jewelry to the hearing, and yet are telling the judge you didn’t go to counseling or get a certain prescription filled because you couldn’t afford it, he or she is going to find you less credible, perhaps, because in the judge’s mind you had money for manicures and jewelry.
The judge will ask you a series of questions. They are not trying to be nosy when they ask you what type of residence you live in and who you live with. They are trying to get an idea of what you are doing each day since you are not working. If you tell them you live in a three story house, have 5 children under the age of 7, and have no childcare or household help, the judge is certainly going to wonder why you can’t work. They are also not interested in your political or religious beliefs when they ask if you belong to any clubs or organizations and if you attend church. But, if you tell them you do attend church, they may ask how often. If you say you attend Wednesday bible study, Sunday morning and Sunday evening service, sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, and are an elder or in some other leadership role in the church, again, the judge may wonder why it is that you can’t work.
Be descriptive. The judge may ask you to explain why you can’t work. Don’t just say something vague like, “I just don’t feel good at all.” No one knows what that means. Also, don’t say, “No one would hire me.” That is not relevant. The judge also does not want to hear a recitation of your medical conditions. The judge knows all of that. He or she has already read all of your medical records.
What the judge wants to know is what limitations you have from your medical conditions. You might say, “Because of the diabetic neuropathy in my feet and my hands, I can’t stand or walk for more than 10 minutes before I have to sit down and rest. I frequently drop things because of the numbness and tingling in my hands. Due to the side effects of my medication of because of the pain, I am not sleeping well and have to take a two hour nap every afternoon. Or:
Due to my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I am afraid to go places I am unfamiliar with because I have to know where the bathroom is. I don’t have a lot of warning and when the cramping starts, I have to get to the bathroom in a hurry. Sometimes I don’t make it. And, when I get in there, I am there for maybe 20 minutes at a time.”
Try to remember all of the problems your illnesses or injuries cause you, not just the big ones. Side effects of medications, depression, anxiety, and a pre-existing learning disability are also things that matter, but sometimes people forget to mention.
Listen carefully to the questions. It is okay to politely ask the judge to repeat the question or to say you don’t understand the question. It is better to do this than to guess at what the judge is asking you. Judges are lawyers and lawyers don’t always speak in the clearest of terms.
This is not the day to be a super hero. This is the day to tell another person how it is to be you. Up until this point the person making a decision about your case has never met you. Try to look at yourself in a realistic way and be brutally honest. Just because you might think that you ought to be able to mow the grass, or vacuum once a week doesn’t mean that’s what you are really doing. And, even though you may have previously been very active – played softball, went hunting and fishing, were on a bowling league, if you haven’t done these things in years, don’t say those are your hobbies. It is fine to tell the judge that you used to do these things, but make sure to add that you are not able to do them anymore. Again, listen to the questions. Make sure you understand if the judge is asking about what you do now, or what you were able to do at some point in the past. In some cases, the judge and your lawyer may be focusing on a time period in the past, as well as asking about how you are doing now.
If there is a vocational expert at your hearing, just tune them out. Pretend like you have your tv remote and hit “mute.” That person is not talking to you or really about you either. They are talking to the judge and your lawyer. They will cite codes and numbers. You will become frustrated if you try and understand what they are talking about. You aren’t expected to know what they are talking about.
Anticipate that the judge will not give you the decision the day of your Social Security disability hearing, but will issue a written decision that will come in the mail sometime in the next few weeks. When you get the decision, call your lawyer to discuss the next step.