Many claimants have to have a hearing with an administrative law judge to determine their eligibility for disability benefits. Most find this very stressful. But as your representative, I prepare you for the hearings and attend them with you. By the time you have a hearing, we will know each other well enough that we both will be comfortable.
The hearings are not like a courtroom trial. They are considered to be “non-adversarial” and are held in a small conference room. You will sit at a small table, and I will sit with you. The judge usually wears a black robe and is seated up higher on a platform. There are microphones and the hearing is recorded. A court reporter is present. A vocational expert is present either by telephone conference call or in person. Sometimes there is a medical expert involved either in person or by telephone conference. You will be sworn in “to tell the truth.”
Every judge is different. Some judges want to ask all the questions themselves. Some want your representative to ask you many of the questions. No two hearings are alike. But I will be there with you.
The most important evidence in your claim is your medical records, but your testimony is also important. The judge will ask you questions about your daily activities to determine your functional limitations. For example, let’s say you have a bad back. The judge may ask you, “How many pounds can you lift? How long can you sit? How far can you walk? Can you shop for groceries?” Or perhaps you have a mental impairment. The judge may ask questions such as “How long can you concentrate? Do you have problems with your memory?” Then the judge compares your testimony to your medical records. If there is something I feel has not been brought out sufficiently, I will do so.
Often the best ways to describe your limitations is by relating a story or painting a picture. For example, the judge may ask you if you drive or not. The answer to this question is either yes or no. But a better way to answer this question, rather than just a quick yes or no, would be to say something like this.
“Yes, I can drive. But I rarely do because I can’t feel my feet from the neuropathy and I have almost had accidents.” Examples such as these illustrate how your impairments affect your ability to function, and this in tum directly relates to your ability to sustain substantial gainful employment. Or, if you have a mental impairment such as severe anxiety, and if the judge asks you if you go out in public as in an activity like grocery shopping, it is better to describe what you do. For example, you may say something like “Yes, I do grocery shop about twice a month. But I go at 11 p.m. when hardly anyone is there, and even at that, I can only go if someone is with me. I’ve had to abandon my cart in the grocery store at times when I had an anxiety attack.”
One thing we emphasize with our clients is it is important to not exaggerate, but conversely not to minimize. There is nothing like the “ring of truth.”
And remember, I will be there to help you.