What to Know Before Your Social Security Disability Hearing
A Social Security disability hearing is often an extremely nerve-wracking event. Because the judge’s decision can have a significant impact on the rest of your life, it’s crucial that you go into your hearing fully prepared. Not only will preparing beforehand boost your self-confidence during the hearing, but it may also help you get the disability benefits you deserve.
One of the best ways to prepare for your hearing is to hire a disability lawyer. While there are a few steps you can take to prepare on your own, an experienced disability lawyer can provide additional information and guide you through the hearing process. Having someone by your side can relieve a lot of your stress both before and during the hearing and help you concentrate on what truly matters: your health.
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Keep reading to learn what you can expect during your Social Security disability hearing and the benefits of working with an experienced disability lawyer.
What Happens at a Social Security Hearing?
Although your hearing is in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) and it’s often recommended to have a lawyer with you, it’s important to understand that you are not on trial. A disability hearing gives the judge a chance to learn how your condition affects your life and hear your side of the story. The judge will ask you questions and collect any evidence you provide.
At a typical Social Security hearing, the judge will ask you a series of questions about your living situation, work experience, education, your health conditions, and other important issues. If you have a Social Security lawyer, they will also have an opportunity to ask you questions.
It’s likely that the ALJ will also request testimony from a vocational expert, sometimes called a VE. This expert will help the judge understand your work-related skills and identify jobs you could do within your restrictions.
In most cases, the judge will not make a decision on the day of your hearing. Instead, you will have to wait for a written decision—which may take several months to receive.
Your Testimony Matters
Your testimony is a crucial part of a Social Security disability hearing. One of the most important things to remember during your testimony is always tell the truth and never exaggerate your injuries to make your case seem stronger. Instead, keep in mind that the most compelling way to present your testimony is to paint an accurate picture of your daily life. Share what activities you used to enjoy but can no longer partake in due to physical limitations or pain.
Here are a few more tips to keep in mind when you are preparing for your testimony:
- Provide brief, clear answers
- Stay on subject
- Be as specific as possible
- Always be honest
- Don’t feel embarrassed to talk about your symptoms
- Never answer a question you did not understand
Additionally, refining your answers with a disability lawyer ahead of time will help make sure you’re presenting the most important parts of your testimony.
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The Importance of Keeping a Disability Journal
Sometimes, it can be easy to forget how dramatically your condition has affected your everyday life. Seemingly normal parts of your day can involve subtle hurdles that you may forget to mention during your hearing because you are used to dealing with them. From getting dressed to preparing food, or even performing basic hygiene tasks, your disability can impact a variety of your day-to-day activities. Journaling about your day and how much time you spend doing these ordinary tasks can help you better understand your disability.
Remember, it’s important to be as specific as possible when answering the judge’s questions. For example, instead of saying it takes you “a long time” to get ready in the morning, explain how you often need an hour and a half because of your physical limitations.
Journaling is also useful for keeping track of the number of good days compared to bad. When you have frequent bad days, it’s easy to downplay them and consider a bad day “normal.” However, acknowledging and sharing when you’re struggling is an important part of your disability hearing. A disability journal can be an excellent way to help your case by supporting your testimony with real examples.
Review Your Social Security File and Update Your Medical Records
When preparing your medical history and documentation for your hearing, it’s important to present complete and consistent information. When the ALJ reviews your claim, they must consider all your medical conditions, even if they are not disabling on their own.
Sometimes, Social Security claimants assume that the ALJ will get their updated medical records for them. Unfortunately, this is not true. Before your hearing, it’s in your best interest to review your Social Security file and submit any missing medical records.
Your case will be significantly stronger if you or your disability lawyer give Social Security copies of your complete, updated medical records, such as:
- Your doctors and specialists’ medical opinions
- Records from any recent inpatient hospitalizations
- Clinical and laboratory diagnostic reports
- Proof of the frequency and duration of your treatments
- Work restriction or disability slips completed by your doctors
According to the Social Security Administration, the more consistent these medical opinions and reports are with your medical record as a whole, the more credibility and weight a judge will give the information, and the stronger your case will be.
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Applying for Social Security disability can be a challenging and emotional ordeal. When you need extra support just to get by, the stakes are high and so is your stress level. Having a lawyer on your side will help you better understand the hearing process and know what to expect.
At AMA Law, we have experience helping individuals with disabilities get the support they need. If Social Security denied your application for benefits, or you have questions about the process, don’t hesitate to reach out. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (405) 607-8757 or fill out this short online form.
Social Security Administration. (2017, January 1). Revisions to the Rules Regarding the Evaluation of Medical Evidence (20 CFR Parts 404 and 416). Federal Register. Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2017-00455
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.