What Not to Do at Your Social Security Disability Hearing
1. Don't argue your case. Your job is to testify to facts, describe your symptoms, give estimates of your limitations, outline your daily activities, and provide lots of examples of your problems. Leave arguing your case to your lawyer. For example, don't use the line that starts with "I worked all my life...." or don't say, "I know I can't work."
2. Don't try to draw conclusions for the judge. Let the judge draw his or her own conclusions. Don’t say things such as, "If I could work, I would be working," or "I want to work." If you say any of these, it may cause the judge to think about Stephen Hawking who is in a wheelchair and unable to speak but is the world's leading expert on theoretical physics. There are many exceptional people with extreme disabilities who work; but that is not the issue in a Social Security disability case. It is also not relevant that there may be people less disabled than you who receive disability benefits.
3. Don't compare yourself to others. Popular lines are:
"I know a guy who has nothing wrong with him but he gets disability benefits."
"I know people less disabled than me who get disability benefits."
"If I were an alcoholic you'd give me disability benefits."
None of these comparisons helps your case.
4. Don't try to play on the judge's sympathy. It won't help and it might backfire. Judges have heard it all. Your financial situation, the fact that the bank is going to foreclose on your house and so forth are not relevant.
5. Don't try to demonstrate what a "good" person you are. Benefits are not awarded to the virtuous; they are awarded to the disabled. Sometimes claimants bring up things on their own only to demonstrate their virtue, thinking that this will influence the judge. Don't do it. This is just like trying to play on the judge's sympathy. It doesn't work and it may backfire.
6. Don’t tell the judge what an honest person you are. Many genuinely honest claimants think that they need to tell the judge just how honest they are. Such a claimant may say, “I am an honest person.” Don’t do this. Your honesty will be demonstrated by your truthful testimony on relevant matters. Telling the judge you are honest may backfire.
7.Don't engage in dramatics. You are supposed to tell the truth at your hearing. If you are putting on a show for the judge, that is the same thing as not telling the truth. (At the same time, however, if you are having a genuine problem at the hearing and you need to stop the hearing for any reason, tell the judge and your lawyer.)
8. Don't give irrelevant testimony. Social security regulations contain a list of irrelevant areas of testimony—areas that the judge can't and won't consider in deciding your case. This list is in the regulations:
- The fact that you are unable to get work is not relevant.
- The lack of work in your local area is not relevant.
- Hiring practices of employers are not relevant.
- Technological changes in the industry in which you have worked are not relevant.
- Cyclical economic conditions are not relevant.
- The fact that there are no job openings is not relevant.
- The fact that you would not actually be hired for a job is not relevant.
- The fact that you do not wish to work at a particular job is not relevant.
Also, it doesn't matter that a particular job doesn't pay well enough to support your family.
There are three areas where there could be potential problems. If any of these three things apply to your case, be sure to bring them to the attention of your lawyer before the hearing.
1. Think back over the 15 years before you became disabled. Pick out your easiest job. If you have trouble explaining why you can't now do that easiest job, even if that job no longer exists, be sure to discuss this with your lawyer.
2. If you received unemployment compensation at any time during the period that you are claiming to be disabled, make sure your lawyer knows about it before the hearing.
3. If you have been looking for work during any period that you claim to be disabled, tell your lawyer about it before the hearing.
Things to Do
Here's a list of things to do at your hearing:
- Tell the truth.
- Neither exaggerate nor minimize your symptoms.
- Know your present abilities and limitations.
- Provide relevant details and concrete examples, but don't ramble on.