Best Practices for a Successful Social Security Disability Hearing

Social Security disability hearings can induce anxiety and stress. You’ve waited years for a chance to explain to a human being why you are no longer able to work, complied with the mountain of paperwork involved with a disability application, submitted to the mystifying application and appeals process, and have waited far too long for an actual hearing date. On top of that, there is a lot riding on the outcome of the hearing. Here are some tips for the day of the hearing:

  1. Arrive early: In order to alleviate unneeded stress, plan on arriving at the hearing office at least 45 minutes early. If you are late, the judge may postpone your hearing, resulting in more unnecessary delays in your claim for disability.

  2. Know where you’re going: Some people like to do a “dry run” a few weeks before the hearing. Once you know the time and date of your hearing, you should visit the hearing office at the same time of day in which your hearing is scheduled, using the mode of transportation that you plan on using on your hearing date. Doing a “dry run” can help alleviate stress on the day of the hearing, since you’ll know where you’re going and won’t have to worry about getting lost, finding parking, or arriving late!

  3. Bring Identification: Due to new Department of Homeland Security regulations, you cannot enter the Federal Building without your identification. The security guards at the entrance are super friendly, but they will enforce this rule. If you forget your ID, you will not be granted access to the building, and your hearing will either be postponed or conducted over the phone, neither of which are good options.

  4. Bring Your Hearing Notice: The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will send you a “Notice of Hearing” containing the time and date of your disability hearing. This notice is your access pass to the faster “appointment” line in front of the building security. At certain times of the day, such as when the Federal Building opens at 8 a.m., long lines can form, so it’s definitely in your interest to utilize the expedited entry line using your “Notice of Hearing”.

  5. Be Straightforward and Honest with the Judge: The absolute best piece of advice on how to conduct yourself during the hearing is this: Answer questions honestly and only answer the question that is asked. Do not volunteer additional information or change the subject to topics that you think the judge should know. It is tempting to try to get to the important truths about your medical condition, and how your impairments prevent you from working and affect your everyday life. Ignore this temptation. In order to make a decision on your disability claim, the judge needs to get through a lot of background information. Hearings go smoothly when the disability claimant is patient with the process, and doesn’t need to be redirected by the judge or attorney. Some of the topics can be personal or embarrassing, but keep in mind that the hearing is private and will not be disclosed to anyone without your permission. It is in your interest to tell the judge as much as you can about your condition, and to be totally honest about how your impairments impact you.

  6. Do not exaggerate: You do not need to be bedridden to qualify for Social Security disability. If you exaggerate your symptoms or functionality, the judge may find that you did not testify credibly, which hurts your case tremendously.

  7. Speak Audibly: The judge will explain at the beginning of the hearing that you must speak audibly when answering questions. The hearing will be recorded to create a transcript. The recording equipment will not capture nodding or shaking your head. All answers, including “yes” or “no”, must be spoken clearly.

  8. Ask for clarification: If you don’t understand a question, just ask the judge or the attorney to repeat or restate the question.

  9. Know your limitations: Have a general idea about how to respond to the questions “Why are you unable to work?” The judge wants to know about your mental and physical health impairments, and how those impairments would impact your ability to work. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, note the symptoms you feel on a day to day basis, how long it takes you to complete basic tasks around the house, whether you need assistance when doing these tasks, how much weight you can lift and carry, how long you can sit, stand, and walk without needing to shift positons due to pain.

  10. Be courteous to the judge, experts, and ODAR staff: The judges, experts, and ODAR staff have a tough job. They must process thousands of disability cases every year, and each claim involves hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of medical records to read and process. It takes a considerable amount of time to get each case ready for hearing. Expressing frustration with the process does not help your case.

  11. Know your rights: If you do not have a Social Security attorney at the time of the hearing, you have the right to postpone the hearing in order to seek representation from a Social Security disability attorney who has been authorized to represent Social Security disability claimants at administrative hearings. Call the LaPorte Law Firm to schedule a free consultation. Please be sure to bring your CD with medical exhibits, which the staff at ODAR should have given you prior to your hearing. This will allow the attorneys at LaPorte Law Firm to quickly review your disability claim and have a more informed consultation about the best strategy for obtaining an approval.