Although less formal than a traditional courtroom trial, disability hearings before an administrative law judge (ALJ) are an important part of the disability determination process. However, many claims are still denied at disability hearings.
What you say to the ALJ can be the deciding factor in whether you are granted benefits. It is important to pay attention to what is being asked, refrain from offering more than what is asked, and be careful in how you phrase your answers.
Below, our Phoenix Social Security Disability lawyers discuss what to avoid saying at your disability hearing in order to protect your claim. We are available to answer any questions you may have during a free initial consultation. If you have a valid claim, we are ready to argue your case in front of an ALJ.
Call 1-800-503-2000 to talk to a lawyer.
“I Cannot Find a Job or Do a Proposed Job”
Saying things like “I cannot find a job” or “Nobody will hire me” implies that you are able to work. Social Security Disability benefits are only awarded if your medical condition prevents you from working, not because you are unable to find a job. (That is the purpose of receiving unemployment benefits).
The ALJ will likely consider such statements as evidence that you are physically capable of working and deny your disability claim. If you are asked by the ALJ why you are unable to work, be sure to explain how your medical condition makes you unable to perform work-related tasks and do any past work.
At your disability hearing, you can bring up reasons as to why you cannot do a proposed job. Valid reasons include limitations that prevent you from doing sedentary work. Perhaps you are unable to sit or stand for long periods. You may also be unable to stoop, bend or crouch, or must recline or lay down during the day.
However, if you are disputing accepting a proposed job, your case will likely be dismissed by the ALJ by saying things like “I would have to relocate to take a job”, “There are no current job openings for the jobs I can do” or “I do not think any employer will hire me.” These types of statements could hurt your ability to receive disability benefits.
“There is No Relief for My Pain”
Unfortunately, claimants often lie or exaggerate the severity of their condition and how it impacts their lives in an attempt to increase their chances of approval.
Doing so can cause a great deal of harm and may tarnish your credibility with the ALJ. ALJs know that most medical conditions cause some level of pain and discomfort, making it hard to work and perform normal daily activities.
Exaggerating or lying about your condition may cause the ALJ to question your medical condition and ultimately deny your disability claim. For instance, if you say that your pain level is always at a 10 or more and that you can never find any relief.
“I Am Not Being Treated for My Condition”
To protect your health and your disability claim, it is important to attend all of your scheduled doctor’s appointments and follow his or her treatment plan. Not seeing your doctor on a regular basis could jeopardize your ability to receive disability benefits. When questioned, the ALJ may think that your medical condition is not as severe as you claim. Otherwise, you would have sought treatment.
If you are not currently getting treatment, be sure to explain to the ALJ what treatments and medications you have tried and the reasons why you may have stopped treatment.
If you say “I am not being treated for my condition” because you cannot afford to see a doctor, it may work differently in your favor. Claimants cannot be denied disability simply because they have not been seen by a doctor. ALJs are aware that not everyone can afford to visit a doctor regularly.
You may be able to undergo a consultative examination to have your medical condition examined by an approved Social Security doctor free of charge. This exam could help provide the medical evidence to show the severity of your medical condition. The ALJ will use this exam to approve or deny your claim.
“I Have a Prior Criminal Conviction”
Having a prior criminal conviction does not generally impact your ability to receive disability benefits. However, the ALJ may hold it against you if you evaded arrest, violated parole or probation, or became disabled while committing a crime. Unless the ALJ directly asks you about ever being convicted of a crime, do not offer up this information. Doing so may hurt your disability claim.
If you are asked at your disability hearing, be sure to answer honestly. Explain to the ALJ what happened, the treatment you sought while in jail or prison, and why you can no longer work.
“I Have a Drug or Alcohol Problem”
Your disability claim cannot be denied because you have a history of drug or alcohol use. However, the ALJ may not grant you disability benefits if your addiction is a contributing factor to your medical condition.
Do not say “I have a drug or alcohol problem” unless the ALJ directly asks you. If questioned, be open about it. Explain what happened and what steps you took or are currently taking to end your addiction.
Avoid Simply Answering “Yes” to Questions
Your medical condition may not allow you to perform some activities you once enjoyed. If the ALJ asks “Can you cook?”, “Can you do laundry” or “Can you go for a walk?” avoid simply answering “Yes.”
This response is not only vague but the ALJ may assume that you can do these and other similar activities. If the ALJ thinks that you do these activities all the time with no difficulty, your disability claim will likely be denied. Instead, be specific about the activities you can do and how often you can do them.
If you can cook, explain how some days your medical condition allows you to provide for your family. Explain also if most other days you have crippling pain and fatigue and cannot get up to cook a meal. This response can provide a more accurate account of how your condition limits your daily activities.
Let Us Represent You at Your Disability Hearing
At Dayes Law Firm, we have helped represent many claimants at disability hearings. Our lawyers understand what the ALJ is looking for and the things that can affect being approved for benefits.
Find out if you have a valid claim by contacting us and scheduling your free consultation. There are no fees to talk to a lawyer about your situation and no upfront costs to retain our services.
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