What is the Purpose of the Administrative Law Judge’s Questions at Hearing

When you’ve spent the better part of two (2) years waiting for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) it is rather normal to be nervous before the hearing.   Understanding what the purpose of the judge’s questions are and what the judge is looking for in the way of answers so as to properly decide your claim can help ensure that you address your answers in a way that will prove most meaningful to the ALJ that is hearing your case that day.

It is important to understand that prior to reaching the hearing level that a disability claimant has not had an opportunity to tell their story other than by way of their disability application material (and for this very reason, the initial forms one undertakes as part of the application process, such as the Adult Disability Report and the Adult Function Report) can prove very important.  At no point, however, has anyone at the Social Security Administration (SSA) had an opportunity to hear your story in person.  The hearing process can allow a claimant a pivotal opportunity to tell their story as to how it is they became disabled from working, and further explain the efforts that have been made to seek additional treatment that might allow them to get better and return to work.  Understanding the judge’s role in this process is pretty important.

First and foremost, when addressing introductions at the beginning of the hearing, the presiding ALJ will explain that they have been assigned to hear your case anew, or “de novo,” which means that they are not bound by prior decisions.  They will decide your case based on the evidence that has been provided and the testimony of both you and any witnesses either the judge or you have decided to call that day.  The ALJ will be looking to see why it is that you had to leave your employment (and will look to see whether it was in fact disability-related) and will likewise look to see to what extent an individual has sought out aggressive treatment to try and get better and 2) whether they have been zealous in their attempts to return to some manner of employment.  The ALJ will be looking to see as well that the claimant is willing to provide their story without an agenda, and that answers without embellishment and without attempts to “prove” their case.   ALJ’s are given the task of making a credibility determination: this means they are looking to see that the claimant is being truthful with their testimony.  Thus, one may be asked about whether certain activities have been undertaken (where the medical records or the application materials may make reference to such activities.

As I like to inform my clients when preparing them for hearing, whether it be at the Boston, MA, Manchester, NH or Portland, ME Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), being “disabled” from working does not mean one is totally incapable of doing anything: it means that one’s ability to function remains dysfunctional.  This means that one may be capable of undertaking certain activities on good days or good parts of the day, but that sustaining certain activities necessary for work may be proving problematic when called upon by an employer to undertake such activities in a competitive work situation: that is, 8 hours per day, 5 days per week (as is required in order to be deemed capable of gainful employment: see Social Security Ruling 96-8P).

Social Security Ruling 85-16 requires that the presiding ALJ undertake an analysis or inquiry into the quality of the activities undertaken along with a determination as to a claimant’s ability to sustain such activities over some period of time.   And so, when an ALJ requests of a disability claimant what it is that they do during the day, it is important to understand that it would never make sense to say that you don’t do anything: everybody is doing something over the course of a day (even if it is lying down for periods of the day, or remaining at home, lying on a couch and watching TV for the majority of a day).  Likewise, when describing the activities one is able to undertake, it’s just as important that one describe the extent to which one’s ability to perform the given activity may depend on the day, the time of the day or may require breaks.

Should you find yourself proceeding to hearing, there is no need to proceed alone.  Obtaining an experienced and aggressive Social Security disability lawyer can make all the difference in the world and will cost you nothing up front: fees are totally contingent upon winning your case.  Thus, you should give a call now to 1-800-773-8622 to speak with the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith and see how we can assist you.


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