How can I Prepare for my Upcoming Social Security Disability Hearing?

There is nothing more stressful than waiting for your Social Security disability hearing.  Assuming claim is out of Maine or Massachusetts, you have likely been waiting for the better part of 2 years to get in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) having been denied twice at the initial and reconsideration levels.  Assuming your case is out of New Hampshire, you are only slightly more fortunate as you bypass a reconsideration process which carries with it a very high denial rate: and so you’ve also been waiting for what has likely been a year and a half following your initial denial.

One of the most common questions we hear leading up to our clients’ hearings is what can I do to to prepare?  The first thing we will tell you that is that being nervous is normal and healthy.  We would worry more if our clients weren’t worried.  Obviously, you’ve been sitting at home, unable to go to work and your family’s  financial resources having dwindled.

For many of our clients, their significant other/spouse is gone working during the day (many times working 2 jobs) just to make ends meet.  The only thing you have to do while at home is sit and think what the future holds.  Given this, it’s important to understand that there are things you can do to feel more confident going into the hearing.   

If represented by a conscientious Social Security lawyer, they will set up a time to go over, hopefully soup to nuts, everything you will need to know: for example, where and when you should arrive, what would be appropriate attire, what you should expect will be the specific issues that apply to your case and the types of questions you’ll face.  That being said, there are a number of basic things to keep in mind going into a Social Security disability hearing with your lawyer, whether in Maine, Massachusetts or New Hampshire, that will help you feel more comfortable with the process: not to mention homework you can do to prepare yourself for the conversation with the ALJ.

First and foremost, this is not an adversarial hearing: there is no one on the other side arguing against your claim that you remain disabled.  The ALJ is considered a neutral finder of fact who is assigned to decide your case as of new.  He/she is not bound by any of the prior decisions or findings and will decide your case as of new based on your testimony, the medical evidence in the file and the arguments of your counsel.  That being said, you may wonder what your role is in this ?

It is important to remember the reason you applied for Social Security disability benefits versus returning to work: that is, that you suffer from severe medical condition(s) that interfere with your ability to perform any manner of employment, undertaking what is termed substantial gainful activity (that is, making simply $1180/month on a regular and continuing basis) for longer than a year.   It’s important to understand that the ALJ wants to know why you can’t go back to any of the past jobs you’ve done in the 15 years prior to becoming disabled (that is, perform your past relevant work) or perform any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.  With that in mind, ask yourself what it is about your day or days that keeps you from maintaining a consistent schedule.  Any job requires consistency: showing up 8 hours/day, 5 days/week.  You can’t be coming in late, leaving early or calling out on any regular basis.  You can’t be lying down or reclining during the day, or for that matter taking naps during the day.  Any job, however easy, is going to require that you sit, stand or walk for what will be a total of 8 hours/day, and come back and do this 5 days a week.

With this in mind, make a list of those issues that you believe impact your ability to be a consistent worker, showing up and performing day in and day out.  Whether it be the need to take naps during the day, or for that matter take unscheduled breaks during the day (whether it be to go to the bathroom, lie down, recline or nap).  Think about what your bad days are like and what would make it impossible for you to manage coming in to a work setting for 8 hours and performing some manner of tasks and hen coming back 5 days/week consistently.  And on a very basic level, think about what may keep you from waking up at a certain time each day, getting yourself ready to go to work, and then stay at a job site for 8 hours/day without having to return home (not to mention perform some basic work tasks and deal with coworkers, supervisors and, perhaps the public).

These are just some of the basic questions your lawyer should have asked when they first took your case, and these are some of the same questions one should be able to answer while awaiting a hearing.  Make a list as to why you cannot work a very simple position (not simply the ones you’ve performed previously) 8 hours/day, 5 days a week, and you will not only feel more comfortable while waiting for your hearing but also feel more comfortable answering questions in front of the ALJ.

If you or someone you love is awaiting hearing in your Social Security disability case and require either legal advice or assistance with your claim, contact the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith at 1-800-773-8622 for a free consultation to see how we might be able to assist you.