The big day has finally arrived: after waiting for a year (or more), you are finally sitting in a room with the Judge who will decide your case. Now is the time to sit down with your social security attorney or representative and prepare. The following is a general guide to what to do, and what not to do.
Social Security Judges spend their entire day listening to people complain about their ailments. If you are seen as exaggerating, the Judge probably won’t believe you. If asked about your activities, don’t say “nothing”: describe what you do. Unless there is evidence that the person is in a coma, he or she probably does something.
Don’t minimize your problems
The opposite of exaggeration is to minimize your condition. This is also a bad idea. Most of us try to do as much as we can, and don’t want to admit that we can’t do something, or have difficulty with it. But if the truth of the matter is that you have limitations, tell the Judge about them!
Who would hire me?
The Social Security administration defines disability in terms of someone’s ability to perform the duties of a job. If you could work, but simply can’t find a job, that doesn’t mean that you are disabled. Complaints about the difficulties that exist in getting hired won’t help to persuade the Judge.
Trying to work is not necessarily inconsistent with having a disability. Many persons who meet the definition of disability are able to work, often due to accommodations from their employers. I’ve known attorneys who were able to practice despite being blind, or confined to a wheelchair. Other persons might be able to work on a part-time basis, but could not hold a full-time job.
Your Social Security representative should sit down with you and go over the questions which are likely to be asked. These include describing your daily activities, and your symptoms – how your medical condition affects you. You may also be asked about your education and past work experience.
Depending on the Judge, you might be asked some other questions, such as “Why do you think you can’t work.”
Explain your answer, if necessary.
Some questions call for a yes or no answer. Others might require some explanation. As an example, a Social Security Lawyer might ask “Do you cook”? Two persons, with the same limitations, could answer as follows:
Yes. I can heat up some soup, and make a sandwich.
No. I can’t cook anymore. All I do is heat up some soup or make a sandwich.
Both are telling the truth, but in neither case is “yes” or “no” an accurate answer.
When testifying, use examples, or comparisons
One of the best ways to communicate is to give an example. Saying “my back hurts” doesn’t mean that much. But if you say “after cleaning the kitchen last night, my back hurt so badly that I couldn’t get to sleep for hours,” you’ve explained to the Judge something more about your pain.
Comparisons are also useful – “before I hurt my back, I used to enjoy fishing. This year I went for an hour on opening day, but I couldn’t continue….”