Eligibility for Disability Benefits and Daily Activities

Judges always ask about daily activities. They ask how you spend a usual day. They use your description to figure out whether or not your daily activities are consistent with the symptoms and limitations you describe. For example, if you claim to have trouble standing and walking because of severe pain in your legs, but you testify that you go out dancing every night, the judge is going to have some reason to doubt your testimony about your symptoms and limitations.

The judge's questioning about your daily activities provides you with a golden opportunity to help your case by giving a lot of details. Here are some examples of what happens if you don't give details:


Judge:
What do you do on a usual day?
Claimant:
Nothing.

This is not a good answer. Sitting and staring at a television set is doing something; sitting and staring out the window is doing something; sitting and staring at a blank wall or at the ceiling is doing something. So describe to the judge what you do; but don't do it this way.

Here's another bad example:


Judge:
What do you do on a usual day?
Claimant:
Oh, I do some cleaning, cooking, straightening up the house, sometimes some laundry and going to the store.

This is a truthful answer since this person does all of these things; but it doesn’t help his case at all. He has left out all of the important details. He failed to mention the fact that he cleans for only a few minutes at a time; he cooks only simple meals because he can't stand in the kitchen long enough to do anything more elaborate; he has help doing the laundry; he never goes to the store alone; and he always takes along his 15-year-old son to carry the groceries. He also failed to mention that he sits in his recliner several times during the day to relieve the pain in his back. In other words, the brief description of the things that he did during the day does not support his testimony about disability. But, the details about how he goes about doing these things do help his case.

To help the judge “live” your day with you, run through your usual day hour by hour. Emphasize those things that you do differently now because of your health problems. If you stop and think about it, you'll probably be able to come up with a long list of things you do differently now than you did before you became disabled. These things are important because they show how your disability has affected your life.

Describe how long you do an activity and how long you rest afterwards. Tell where you rest, whether it's sitting or lying down, whether it's on the couch or the bed or a recliner chair. Tell how long it takes you to do a project now compared to how long it used to take you. Describe all those things that you can’t accomplish without help from other people—and tell who those other people are and what help they provide..