Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing
Whether or not you have an attorney or a non-attorney representative handling your claim, make sure you're properly prepared for your Social Security disability hearing. Knowing how to best represent your interests can mean the difference between having your benefits approved or denied, regardless of the underlying facts and available evidence.
As a rule, always tell the absolute truth during your hearing. Exaggerations of your symptoms, if inconsistent with other evidence, can derail a claim that otherwise might have been approved. Also, it helps to be concise with your answers.
This article covers the types of information you'll need to know at your hearing, followed by some useful tips to help you best prepare for your Social Security disability hearing. See "What Happens at a Disability Hearing?" for more general information about the process.
What You'll Testify About at the Hearing
- Medical Condition(s): The judge already will have copies of your medical records, so you'll mostly be asked about your symptoms (dizziness, inability to stand, pain, etc.). Some questions to consider: Can you describe the intensity of the pain on a scale of one to 10? Do you take medications and are there any side effects? Is your range of motion limited?
- Physical and/or Mental Abilities: Depending on the nature of your medical condition and claim for disability, you'll be asked about the limits of your physical and/or mental abilities. Questions may include: How long can you walk before you need to rest? Are you able to concentrate for an extended period of time?
- Medical History: This includes what kinds of treatments and medications you're currently taking; how often you visit your doctor; and generally how your condition is being treated.
- Training and Education: In addition to school or college, this includes formal vocational training, military service, on-the-job training, and related experience.
- Employment History: The judge will ask about your work experience over the past 15 years. Specifically, you'll be asked about your job duties; how much time was spent sitting, standing, or walking; how much weight you had to lift; and the level of skill required for each job.
- Day-to-Day Activities: You'll be asked about a typical day, from the moment you get up to when you go to bed, including how well you sleep at night. Questions may include: What activities did you enjoy before you became disabled and which of these (if any) are you no longer able to do? Do you drive a car or perform basic home repairs?
How to Prepare for Your Hearing
The following list offers advice to help you prepare for your disability hearing but is by no means complete. You might also consider hiring a disability lawyer or a non-lawyer representative to help you with your claim.
- Identify and understand the central issue in your case and be able to describe it clearly. You want to avoid sounding vague about your disability, so make sure you can explain exactly what prevents you from working and how your disability limits you.
- Think about specific tasks such as walking, sitting, standing, and carrying. You'll need to answer clearly about your ability to do any of these specific activities; simply saying "I haven't thought about it" will not help your case.
- If chronic pain is at the heart of your claim, you should be able to describe the intensity of your pain on a scale of one to 10. Again, it helps to be clear and specific when testifying.
- Even if you have a solid claim, remember that this is an appeal from a denial. That means you must present yourself as a reliable claimant, especially for conditions where there is limited objective evidence (including mental disabilities and chronic pain).
- Learn everything you can about the particular judge who's presiding over your hearing, as judges often differ in approach. For example, some judges don't say much but other judges tend to directly challenge claims.
- Make it clear that you'd rather be able to hold down a job than be dependent upon disability benefits. Someone who sounds over-eager to collect a check each month won't appear reliable to the judge.
- Keep a detailed diary of your daily activities a few weeks prior to your hearing. Include nearly everything you do from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, including how well you sleep at night. Specifically, make sure you document how well you feel throughout the day; what you do to alleviate discomfort; which medications you take, when, and how often.
- Make a list of activities you once enjoyed but no longer are able to do as a result of your disability.
- Make a list of all medications you currently take, plus any that you no longer take (if relevant to your disability). Some other details to include are the name of the prescribing doctor, dosage, and side effects.
- Write a detailed list of your job duties, plus physical and mental requirements of each, for all jobs you've had in the past 15 years.
- If you're represented, make sure you meet with your representative before your hearing.