5 Tips About Testifying At Your Social Security Hearing

5 Tips about Testifying at Your Social Security Hearing

When you go to a Hearing on your Social Security Disability case, you will be there to provide expert testimony on the symptoms which you experience and which keep you from being able to maintain work on a full-time, ongoing, regular basis. We can help you by developing the medical record to support your complaints and alleged limitations. Of course we can also represent you at the Hearing.

Here are 5 Tips to keep in mind.

1. A Hearing is an informal proceeding during which you describe the problems you are having and how they limit your ability to perform work. There is no one right way to state things. The Judge will be expecting to hear a story that makes sense, so just relax and do the best you can to explain what health conditions have made you unable to work.

2. BE YOURSELF. Don’t try to memorize what you are going to say. Doing this will sound planned and unnatural. Just tell your story your way. Explain why you had to stop working if your medical condition made you stop working. If your disability has gotten worse over the years, say so. It is ok to say “I do not remember” in response to a question from the Judge if this is truly the case. You are the best expert on your symptoms.

3. TELL THE TRUTH. Do not minimize your symptoms in an effort to impress the Judge with your self-discipline or manliness. Likewise do not exaggerate your limitations by saying things like “I can’t do anything all day.” Be specific and give examples of activities that you are unable to do or unable to sustain. Remember, the Judge is determining what he or she thinks you would be able to do 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Avoid being led to agree with something that is untrue if it is untrue. Simply restate the correct information.

4. EXPLAIN YOR ANSWERS. In assessing your case the Judge needs to understand how your conditions affect you in terms of your ability to walk, stand, lift, carry, reach, handle, bend, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl, etc. The Judge will also consider how well you remember, handle stress, deal with other people, pay attention and stay on task. Descriptions of your day to day challenges are helpful to illustrate your limitations. You should also be sure to tell the Judge about any side effects you have from your medications and about how you manage your pain or other symptoms through the day. Many people have good days and bad days. Describing these helps the Judge understand your situation.

5. BE RESPECTFUL. Dress is such a way as to show the Judge that you are taking him or her seriously. Clean simple clothing is fine. Avoid T-shirts with words, extremely revealing clothing and torn clothing. Do not lose your temper or take this as a time to rant about political issues. When answering a question, pause and think about your answer before giving it. Always give a verbal answer because the hearing is being audio recorded but not video recorded. You will need to say “my left shoulder hurts” rather than “I have pain here.”

Because we are a local law firm and have practiced in this area for over 30 years, we can tell you about the Judge before who you will appear and what he or she does in Hearings. We can help you before the Hearing by letting you know what kinds of questions to expect and how to put your best foot forward.


Top 10 Things to know about your Social Security Disability Claim

1.    You Can Apply for Social Security Disability/SSI Through Three Main Avenues:

–    Phone Application – 1-800-772-1213
–    Online – www.ssa.gov
–    At your local social security office

2.    SSDI vs. SSI – Same Medical Standard of Disability, Different Programs for Qualification

SSDI or Social Security Disability Insurance is based off of your payments of social security taxes from working over a period of time. For every 1 year that you make $5,040 (as of 2016), you will earn “4 quarters of coverage.” To be able to apply for an SSDI claim, you must have at least 5 years of coverage within the last 10 years, therefore you must have 20 quarters of coverage within the last 10 years (20 quarters = 5 years)*
*There is a slightly different formulation of coverage for someone under 30 years of age.

SSI or Supplemental Security Income is for you if you don’t meet the above-referenced earnings requirements. Something to remember about the SSI program is before the Social Security Administration will even review your case medically under an “SSI application,” you must not have too much income in your household between you and your spouse. If there is too much income from you and your spouse, you may not even be able to qualify for a medical review of your SSI claim.

3.    What Happens if You’re Denied?
You have 60 days from a denial to appeal a medical denial from Social Security. It is not a good idea to wait to the last second to appeal.

4.    Can You get SSDI if You’re Off Work for 9 Months?

The standard for Social Security is that in order to be disabled, you must be disabled for 12 months or be expected to be disabled for 12 months or longer. For example, if you left your job 3 months ago due to cancer, even though it has not been 12 months yet, Social Security or SSA could still determine that it is reasonably expected for cancer to prevent you from working for 12 months (from when you left work originally), and therefore, that you could be found disabled without having been out of work for 12 months.

5.    You Were Told by Another Attorney that He/She Would Not Take Your Case Because You Won’t Win, Since You’re Under 50.  Should You Appeal Your Denial or Give Up?

The Short Answer: No you should not give up.
Why? Every social security case is different. While a large percentage of our clients are over 50, we have represented thousands of clients under 50 with a wide range of disabling conditions.  In our opinion, it would be unfair to automatically reject a potential client based on age — examining the actual medical file is crucial to a social security disability attorney’s understanding of what is the case’s strength.

6.    You Were Denied Because SSA said You Could do Other Work, Although You’re Over 50 and Have Been a Factory Worker for Over 20 Years.  What Should You do Now?

When someone is aged 50-54 they are considered “closely approaching advanced age,”  and when someone is 55 years and up they are considered “advanced age;” — the bottom line is that what kind of work you did is very important in a social security case when you are 50 years or older. There are many complicated variations of this general rule; our lawyers are well-versed and highly knowledgeable on the intricacies of the rule.

7.    What Considerations are Important to the SSA in its Determination Whether You’re Disabled and Eligible for Disability?

The SSA will consider your medical records, doctor’s statements, and hospital records. Additionally, it will consider statements from you and third parties that know you such as friends or family in determining your overall level of functioning.

8.    Why Isn’t Your Doctor’s Statement that You’re Disabled Enough to Get Disability?

This is because the SSA does not rely on blanket statements of disability by doctors without strong support for the statement in the treatment records.  SSA will look at the particular doctor’s statement, and it will then see if the statement matches up with the overall records you have with that doctor.  If the doctor’s statement is out of line with what he/she has said or treated you for in the past, the doctor’s statement will be given “less weight.” Also, the specialty of the doctor can make the statement stronger or weaker depending on the condition for which you are being treating:  (Example: a neurologist’s opinion on seizures in their patient is stronger than a neurologist’s opinion on a heart condition, if they are not trained in that specialty as well). Doubtless, this can be a frustrating experience for many claimants.

9.    Why Isn’t the Fact You Can’t Go Back to Your Past Job Enough to Get Disability?

This is because the SSA’s standard for disability is “total” – there are no percentages of disability with Social Security, you are either 100% disabled or not disabled. If someone is under 50, all jobs in the state, regional, or national economy must be eliminated. This can certainly be shown, but as in all cases, the medical evidence is the key.

10.    You Missed the Deadline to Appeal Your Denial, is There Anything You Can Do?

Maybe. And that’s a big maybe – depending on your language limitations or failure to deliver by the postal service, you may have good cause to file an appeal outside the deadline but this is not often granted without good reason.  You should consult an attorney immediately to determine whether you can appeal the decision or whether you should file another application.

Appeals Council: Standard of Review; What Happens next

If someone’s case has been denied by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), he or she may appeal that decision with the Appeals Council (A/C). The Appeals Council is a centralized body in Falls Church, VA which handles all disability appeals throughout the US.

The Appeals Council does not review a case the same way an Administrative Law Judge does. The ALJ reviews a case as “de novo”, meaning “fresh,” “new,” “starting over.” The ALJ is not bound by any prior determinations made before at the state agency levels of review.

The Appeals Council, however, will apply a more deferential standard once the ALJ has made his/her decision. The A/C typically does not review the case “de novo.” Therefore, some say, that it may be more difficult to win at the Appeals Council level of review than to win at the ALJ level of review.

If your case has been denied by an ALJ, and legitimate mistakes were made by the Judge, or, if significant evidence was missing, then often, the best next step is to appeal your case to the Appeals Council for review. For additional questions about your, or a friend or family member’s disability case, please feel free to contact us at 404-373-1649.

The regulation concerning Appeals Council Review is 20 CFR 416.1470 and states:

(a) The Appeals Council will review a case if—

(1) There appears to be an abuse of discretion by the administrative law judge;

(2) There is an error of law;

(3) The action, findings or conclusions of the administrative law judge are not supported by substantial evidence; or

(4) There is a broad policy or procedural issue that may affect the general public interest.

(b) In reviewing decisions based on an application for benefits, if new and material evidence is submitted, the Appeals Council shall consider the additional evidence only where it relates to the period on or before the date of the administrative law judge hearing decision. In reviewing decisions other than those based on an application for benefits, the Appeals Council shall evaluate the entire record including any new and material evidence submitted. It will then review the case if it finds that the administrative law judge’s action, findings, or conclusion is contrary to the weight of the evidence currently of record.