Many people approach their Social Security disability hearing with some amount of nervousness—after all, there's a lot riding on the decision of one judge and you get one brief shot to make your case before it's over. So, naturally, you want to make your best impression and let the judge know just what you're struggling with all the time. Ironically, that can lead you to make some mistakes that could cost you your case. Follow these tips to avoid some potential pitfalls.
1. Keep your angry emotions in check.
Don't come to the hearing ready to rant about the system or how unfairly you've been treated. Keep in mind that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is part of that system. You don't want to bit the hand that could be signing your approval papers. You also don't want to give the judge the impression that you think that you are "owed" something. It's okay to show a little emotion but reserve your anger for your private moments and focus instead on how your life has changed since you got sick or were injured.
2. Don't overstate your symptoms.
It's rare for a patient to be in constant, unremitting pain, all the time. Are you able to sleep through it? If the answer is, "Sometimes," then say so. The same advice holds true if you're asked how much you hurt and how often you hurt.
There is nothing wrong with admitting that your condition has its good days and bad days. Just be prepared to give an estimate like, "I have 1 or 2 good days a week.The rest of the week my pain is between a level 5 and a level 7, which keeps me from concentrating, resting, walking, or doing much of anything for very long."
3. Explain what's changed in your life.
Have you lost friends because your emotional problems cause you to cut yourself off? Are you too tired or in too much pain to socialize? Did you stop playing golf, shopping, playing cards, or some other hobby you loved? Has your marriage been strained because the pain makes you irritable and you feel guilty because you can't do what you feel like you should be able to do? Do you have trouble sleeping and wake up feeling just as tired as you did before you went to bed? Does your medication make you feel sick or dull?
Your answers to these questions are the things that the judge wants to hear. Don't wander off topic and discuss the way the doctors ignored your early symptoms or how you were treated badly by your supervisor in spite of your obvious problems. Stay focused on the subject of what you can and can't do and how that is affecting your life.
4. Have representation.
Despite its somewhat informal nature, the ALJ hearing is a courtroom procedure. You need an attorney to represent you. The government will have, at the very least, a representative there explaining why your claim was denied and a vocational expert who is ready to testify about the type of jobs that he or she thinks you can do. You can cross-examine them yourself, but you don't have the experience or knowledge that will allow you to present them with hypothetical situations that illustrate just how wrong their decision was.
An attorney who handles these types of claims knows what the ALJ is looking for in order to approve your case. Resources like Glen Cook Social Security Attorney can help.