Taking your case to court is often a nerve-wracking experience for those who aren't terribly familiar with the legal complexities and processes involved with the Social Security application process. Even more understandable is being nervous in the case of Social Security Disability hearings, when your ability to pay monthly utilities or keep food on the table feels like it's on the line.
The best offense when a case goes in front of a judge is preparation.
While your legal representative will help you to prepare, it's also worthwhile to know as early as possible the kinds of questions you may need to answer. Here are a few pertinent details the judge may want to know more about.
This will simply help the judge to get a better sense of you as a whole person rather than just a name on some paperwork, and will help them to understand whether you meet the qualifications for Social Security Disability.
You may find yourself answering questions as varied as place of birth, level of eduction, who you live with, or where you currently live. You may also be asked more specific information regarding your height, weight and whether you have a driver's license.
Your Employment History
Be prepared to go into some detail regarding your past work. Your work history will need to cover the last fifteen years of employment up to the date of the alleged onset of the condition that keeps you from currently working. For those who have been fighting to get Social Security Disability benefits for some time, the dates may be slightly different than just "the last fifteen years". Make sure your timelines are covered very carefully, and there are no unexplained gaps in your work history. Did you stay home while your children were infants or preschool-aged? Make sure the date when you first stopped working and the date when you started working again are both clearly noted. Did you previously work a job with heavy physical demands that has contributed to your current condition? Did you supervise others or handle money frequently? You'll be asked to elaborate on what specific workplace conditions were present.
Other workplace history questions may include whether or not your previous employment involved much interaction with customers or the public, if you primarily stood up at work or sat down, and what parts of your job (if any) involved heavy lifting.
If you have had any income since the onset of your condition kept you from working, be prepared to explain how and why that money came into your possession. You may have received accumulated sick pay or vacation pay after you stopped working, and this income will show up on your earnings record. Usually the judge simply needs to know what this pay represents, but often it is useful to have a statement from your last employer indicating the date you last work and describing the nature of the pay you may have received after the employment ended. If you tried to return to work for any period of time after your alleged onset date of disability, you need to explain to the judge how long the work lasted, how many hours you worked and what your job duties entailed. Again, this can generally be explained during testimony, but a statement from the employer regarding this work attempt may be extremely helpful evidence.
Your Medical Condition
As Social Security Disability hearings most often involve medical conditions that prevent you working outside the home (or sometimes working at all, even within the home), your medical condition is of utmost importance to the judge.
Be prepared to answer questions like:
- What medical professionals (doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc.) have you seen?
- How often do you visit them?
- Are you currently on any prescribed medications? What are they? Any side effects from the medications?
- What body parts are affected by your current condition(s)?
- Are you often in pain? Where do you experience pain and how often? Can you rate the severity and consistency? What makes your pain better or worse?
- Are there environments or specific conditions that alleviate symptoms or make them worse?
- Does medication help your problem? Is there anything else you do to alleviate pain (such as reclining, applying ice or heat, using a TENS unit)?
- Have you ever been hospitalized for your condition? Have you had any surgeries to improve your condition or has surgery been recommended?
- Are there gaps in your medical treatment? If so, why?
- Are you receiving treatment for depression or anxiety? How does your mental state affect you on a daily basis?
Also, you'll need to be prepared to answer the most common question that is ever heard at a Social Security Disability hearing: In your personal opinion, what about your condition prevents you from working?
Please keep in mind that the judge is not asking these questions to be invasive or due to any personal bias, but rather because he or she will be trying to get a sense of the scope of the issue and how severely it has affected your ability to maintain employment. Some of your medical conditions may be embarrassing to talk about to a complete stranger, but the judge needs to know the full story and how you feel to supplement the medical records that outline your conditions.
Your Daily Routine
Many clients find themselves surprised to hear that the judge will want to know about their current day-to-day routine. When speaking about your daily activities, the judge will be looking for a few things — the consistency of your answers and a sense of how your medical condition and/or disability has affected your daily life.
Again, it is essential not to treat these questions as hostile in nature.
The judge isn't trying to disqualify you, only to verify whether or not you do qualify for disability benefits. Expect questions to range anywhere from an overall recounting of daily activities, to what time you wake up in the morning and go to bed each evening, to whether you drive or are able to leave home by yourself.
You may even answer questions about your ability to undertake at-home domestic duties like laundry, dusting or vacuuming rooms, or cooking for yourself and your loved ones. You may be asked to describe any yardwork you are able to do as well as how well you are able to take care of your own personal needs (bathing, dressing, etc.) or whether you need assistance with these tasks. Judges will often ask about social activities or any activities outside of the home, including church involvement, hobbies or outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing or attending sporting events. Understand that the judges are asking these questions to get a sense of your level of activity during a typical day to equate those activities with usual work activities.
Make Sure You Speak With a Legal Professional
Social Security Disability benefits hearings can indeed be an anxious experience when you just don't know what's going to happen or what will be expected of you. Speaking with a legal representative can help you to feel totally prepared and confident when you walk into the hearing room. Knowing and understanding the type of information to be provided will help give the judge a fuller picture of you as an individual, and having a representative by your side at a hearing may better insure that you provide all the right information to the judge.
At Bluestein Attorneys, Social Security Disability is one of our passions and we work hard to ensure that your individual rights are represented and protected. Whether it's Social Security or VA Disability benefits, Worker's Compensation issues, Personal Injury, Automobile Accidents, or any other legal issue you may need advice on, we are here to help. To schedule your FREE consultation, click the banner below or give us a call at (803) 779-7599 today!