If you’re preparing for a Social Security disability hearing, you’re likely feeling pretty nervous. You may think there’s a lot riding on the outcome. As an attorney who helps folks apply for Social Security benefits, we see a lot of clients who absolutely terrified of this part of the process. While it’s true that some people have a rough time in front of the administrative law judge (ALJ), others are simply asked basic questions about their condition.
Generally, where clients go wrong is when they attempt to con in the judge in one way or another. It’s unwise. You should simply describe your condition for what it is and then specify the reasons why it makes it difficult, if not impossible, for you to sustain gainful employment.
1. Do Not Exaggerate Your Symptoms
If the ALJ asks you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, you would be aware that 10 is reserved for situations in which a person should be transported to the hospital. In other words, it’s excruciating pain that prevents you from doing anything other than writhing in agony. It’s impossible for you to be in that amount of pain “all the time” and it’s just as unlikely that you’re experiencing level 10 pain while you’re sitting down talking to the ALJ. If you were it would be unlikely that you would either know or care what they were asking you.
For that reason, it’s important to remember that you won’t be impressing the ALJ by telling that you are in chronic level 10 pain on a daily basis.
On the same token, the ALJ is not a member of your family that you don’t want to concern. You don’t want to tell the ALJ that you’re doing fine so that he feels better about it all. You are there to argue that your disability prevents you from working. Do so honestly.
2. Do Not Provide Too Much Information
Here is yet another instance in which TMI (too much information) will hurt rather than help. When the judge asks you a question, you want to give him a direct honest answer. You don’t want to lie, but you don’t want to offer information that can damage your case. There will be instances in which this severely damages your credibility with the judge.
For example, you do not want to bring up the fact that there is no one hiring where you live and you don’t have a car. While both might be true, it’s necessary to offer this information to the judge since it is not directly related to how your disability prevents you from working. That, in fact, is what you’re there to discuss.
If the judge asks you about a drug or alcohol problem, then answer honestly including any treatment you may be receiving for the problem. Do not, however, offer this information up to the judge. It can reduce your credibility. The same holds true for criminal history.
3. Do Not Give the ALJ Vague Answers
You want to be specific when the ALJ asks you questions. If you have symptoms of back pain, you want to tell the judge about when you get these symptoms, how long they last, and the kinds of activities during which they flare up.
It will be to your advantage to describe the pain the same way you would be expected to if you were in the hospital. Words like “shooting”, “stabbing”, and “throbbing” are good words to use. You want to mention which activities you used to enjoy doing that you can no longer do because of your condition. If you were an avid golfer or bowler, but your back pain prevents you from engaging in those activities, mention that to the judge.
4. Do Not Try to Do It All on Your Own
The process is difficult and can often be overwhelming since the stakes for you are very high. Barnes Caldwell Law Firm has successfully helped our clients prepare for the hearings, as well as appeal a Social Security denial. If you’re concerned about your case, contact us today. We can help you through the process.