How To Avoid Common Mistakes When Answering Questions At Your Disability Hearing

Posted on: 16 December 2014

If you have to go in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for your Social Security disability claim, current statistics show that some ALJs approve more than 70% of the claims that they hear, while others approve less than 7%. Knowing that, it's hard not to feel that there are some ALJs who are simply looking for an excuse not to approve your claim. Avoid these common mistakes when answering questions by the ALJ, in order to keep from derailing your case.

Not Being Prepared

One of the most common pitfalls for claimants is that they aren't prepared to answer specific questions that the ALJ might ask, in regards to their work history, medications, illnesses and symptoms.

A lot of times, it's simply because all of that information is so familiar to a person that it's no longer something that he or she really thinks about. However, to an ALJ, the inability to rattle off the answer might translate to a lack of credibility.

Make sure you know the answer to these questions, and can recite them if asked:

  • What education have you had, including vocational training?
  • What jobs have you held over the last 15 years? Make sure that you know the name of your employers, your specific job titles, and the years that you worked at each job.
  • What were your duties on each of those jobs? Don't take for granted that the judge knows what a "floor nurse" does. Be specific and include details, like, "I had to rotate from room to room for a 12 hour shift, checking vital signs, dispensing medication, charting patient progress, and helping patients in and out of beds." Details like that will help explain why your back injury keeps you from working as a floor nurse now.
  • What is the main reason that you can't work now? Be prepared to give more than your diagnosis. Your diagnosis might be fibromyalgia, for example, but the reason that you can't work is that you suffer from chronic pain and severe fatigue.
  • How bad is your pain, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a very mild headache to 10 being the worst possible pain you can imagine? Be very careful here. If you say that your back pain is a 9 or 10, all of the time, the judge is probably going to decide that you are exaggerating. The best response is to be truthful, but specific. You can say, for example, that your back pain is usually a 3 or a 4 in the morning, but after you get up, get dressed, and eat breakfast, it's a 7 - which causes you to lie down again until it subsides.

Ask your attorney for a list of questions like these that you should be prepared to answer. The key when answering any question from the ALJ, however, is to brief and specific.

You want to be brief so that you don't ramble and risk having the judge interrupt you before you finish saying something important. You want to be specific because that increases your degree of credibility in a way that overly broad statements cannot.

Making Unsolicited Statements That Can Cause An ALJ To Deny Your Claim

Another reason for being brief is that you give yourself less opportunity to say something that can cause an ALJ to decide that there is a reason other than a disability keeping you from working.

While you always need to answer the ALJ truthfully, limit your answers to exactly what you are being asked. Don't offer any unsolicited information, including things like:

  • Nobody is hiring in your town right now because the area is economically depressed, or they are only hiring part-time employees.
  • You have relatives on disability for the same condition that you have.
  • You stopped taking a medication that was prescribed for your condition, even if the reason was simply that you could no longer afford it.
  • You have had problems with drugs or alcohol.
  • You have a criminal history, which has made finding work difficult in the past.

None of these things may actually change the fact that you really are disabled, but they could be misconstrued by an ALJ who is inclined to be critical or suspicious of your motives for filing for benefits. For example, if you volunteer the information that your brother has a back condition and receives disability benefits for it, the judge may question whether or not you are mimicking your brother's condition in a fraudulent attempt to get benefits.

Above all other considerations, keep in mind that you have a right to benefits if you are disabled. Discuss any questions that you have with a good attorney who can help you prepare for your hearing and avoid simple mistakes. Talk to your lawyer, such as Horn & Kelley, PC Attorneys at Law, for more information.