What to Expect at a Social Security Disability/SSI Administrative Law Judge Hearing
Part 4, Hearing Tips
Now that you have learned how to prepare for an Administrative Law Judge Hearing, what to expect the day of your hearing, and what actually happens during your hearing, this post will focus on hearing tips for making the most of your Administrative Law Judge Hearing. Generally, the most important thing that you can do is be prepared for your hearing and know what to expect when at your Hearing. The following are some additional tips that I provide to my clients before their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Administrative Law Judge hearing.
Tips for Having an Effective Administrative Law Judge Hearing:
- Be prepared to answer questions about your condition. You must be able to discuss your current treatment, your medication, and know the approximate dates of any significant events. Significant events include the date that you became unable to work, dates of any motor vehicle/work place accidents that you were involved in, and dates of any surgeries or hospitalizations. You should know the names of all your doctors, the frequency that you see your doctors, and the date that you last saw each doctor.
- Be honest with the Judge. Even if you the truth is harmful to your disability claim, it is better to be candid with the Judge than to be dishonest. The majority of the time, even if you try to hide adverse details, the Judge still finds out about them by reviewing your medical records. The hearing is your chance to explain any negative aspects of your claim, and allow the Judge to consider whether your answers are credible. I discuss any adverse facts with my clients prior to the hearing.
- Do not surprise your attorney the day of the hearing. Many people decide to reveal facts for the first time when they are sworn in at the hearing. If you are not completely open and honest with your attorney prior to the hearing, your attorney cannot adequately represent you. Reveal all facts to your attorney first, and then your attorney can determine how they affect your claim.
- Do not try to influence the Judge by exaggerating your symptoms. Social Security Administrative Law Judges hear an average of 500 claims per year. The Judges are not doctors, but they have a lot of knowledge of your medical conditions and can normally tell when you are exaggerating your problems.
- Do not try to educate the Judge. Social Security Administrative Law Judges are familiar with most medical conditions. It is not necessary to provide them with information packets that describe your medical condition. Judges are concerned about how your condition interferes with your ability to work. Let your attorney educate the Judge by asking you relevant questions about your limitations.
- Be consistent. Make sure that the statements that you make to the Judge are consistent with what you previously told your doctors, and forms that you previously provided to the Social Security Administration. If your answers are different, explain why they are different.
- Do not accuse your doctors of lying. If you believe that a medical record is inaccurate, it is important that you obtain a written correction from your doctor prior to the Hearing. Since your doctor has nothing to gain from providing misleading statements about your condition, it is likely that the Judge will believe your doctor.
- Do not interrupt the Judge or any expert during your hearing. Listen to the question that you are being asked, and wait until the Judge is finished asking the question to provide your answer. It is important that you actually answer the Judge’s question. Most of the time you will be provided an opportunity to provide additional details later in the hearing, but the Judge will become annoyed if you do not provide an answer to the question asked. If you are not given an opportunity to make your point during the hearing, you also have an option of submitting an additional statement after the hearing.
- Be as specific as possible in your answers. Do not answer questions with responses like, I don’t remember, Not that long, I’m not sure, My doctors can answer that, or, I don’t know. If you cannot remember something, give the best answer you can. Explain to the Judge that you are having a difficult time remembering, but provide your best guess. If you are asked to provide an amount of time you can perform an activity, how much you can lift, or how far you can walk, provide the Judge with your best estimate using an appropriate measurement (time, distance, weight, etc.).
- Explain your answers. If yes or no does not completely answer the question that you are being asked, provide additional explanation. Tell the Judge if your ability to perform an activity is limited and if an accommodation has to be made to allow you to perform an activity. If you can do an activity for only a limited amount of time, explain the limitation. Also explain how performing activities for a limited time impacts your ability to function for the rest of the day, or how you feel the next day after being active.
- Timely submit medical evidence. Provide all medical documentation to the Judge as soon as possible. Most Judges review your file at least a week prior to the scheduled hearing (some review it much earlier than that). If materials are not in your file at the time that it is reviewed by the Judge, it is unlikely that those records will receive adequate consideration. If records are not provided until after your hearing, you will not have an opportunity to discuss those records with the Judge, and experts will not be able to review the records before testifying.
- Provide only relevant information. The Judge is concerned about your treatment, your medical condition, your daily activities, and the steps that you are taking to get better. Do not use your hearing to discuss politics, to make recommendations on how to improve the Social Security system, to tell the Judge about a neighbor or family member that is receiving benefits that is not disabled, or to express your feelings about how unfair the system is. Provide information that will help the Judge understand why you have been unable to work, and to sympathize with your condition.
- Have a positive attitude. The Judge will most likely only meet you once. Although you should not be denied benefits because you are not likeable, I am sure that it happens. If you have a chip on your shoulder, you are negative, or you are rude, it is likely that these actions will have a negative impact on your disability claim. Have a positive attitude during the hearing, and always be pleasant.
Since your hearing will probably last only 30-90 minutes, it is important that you use your time wisely. The tips I have provided will help make your hearing meaningful and provide you with the greatest chance of being approved for disability benefits. If you have questions about any of the information provided in this post, please use the comment area below. Since this is a public website, please do not include any information in your question that would personally identify you.
- Questions Generally Asked During Social Security ALJ Hearing
- Social Security Best Practices for ALJ Hearing
- Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Hearing Office Locator
- Part 1, My Social Security Disability Hearing Was Scheduled, Now What?
- Part 2, The Day of Your Social Security Disability Administrative Law Judge Hearing
- Part 3, What Happens During My Social Security Disability Administrative Law Judge Hearing
This article was written by Steven Butler. Steven is a partner at Linarducci & Butler, PA and his practice is limited to Social Security Disability/SSI claims. Steven offers free initial consultations for Social Security Disability/SSI claims to residents of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To schedule a consultation with Steven, please use the Linarducci & Butler Contact Form or call 302-613-0707 to schedule an appointment.