Because of the Social Security disability backlog, most people have to wait about two years from the time they apply for disability until the time they get to a hearing. After all that wait, most people will find their Social Security disability hearing lasts less than an hour. That is why it is vitally important to make the most of the time you have.
The Social Security judge is the only person involved in deciding your case. There is no jury or outside committee that reviews your case. It is the judge’s decision alone. That’s why it’s important to make a strong impression on the judge during the limited time that you have.
If you are represented, your attorney will likely ask you the majority of the questions at your hearing. You can also expect the judge to interject at certain points to ask you questions of his or her own. Most of the time, these questions are just to clarify things that the judge may want more information about. Many times, however, these questions are intended to determine if you are lying or exaggerating about something. Understanding the judge’s role is key to being successful at your hearing.
The Judge: Friend and Adversary
In most legal proceedings, there are two sides opposing each other over a particular issue, and the judge acts as a referee to ensure that the applicable laws are followed. A Social Security hearing is different in that no one is actively opposing you. As a result, the judge will play a larger role in asking you questions that could undermine your case for disability. The judge is not against you, but the judge is not necessarily for you either. The judge must do his or her job to determine if it is fair for you to receive disability benefits from the government.
What Does the Judge Want to Know?
In most cases, especially for younger people, the judge only wants to know one thing: Can you perform a simple, sit-down, entry-level job for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, over an extended period of time? For example, can you be a:
- ticket taker at a movie theater
- surveillance system monitor
- hand packer
- textile inspector
It does not matter if you have never performed work like this or that these jobs pay far less than what you made when you were working. It also doesn’t matter if you don’t have transportation to get to the job or if the job doesn’t exist where you live.
If the judge believes that you have the physical and mental capacity hold a basic, sit-down job on a full-time basis, your chances of receiving disability will be diminished.
How Does the Judge Decide If You Will Get Disability?
The biggest factor in winning a disability case is your medical records. Whatever your doctors are saying (or not saying) about you will provide the objective evidence of your disability. The remaining evidence will come from school and employment records, statements from 3rd parties, such as friends and family, and of course, your testimony.
Your testimony can play a huge role in helping the judge decide your case, particularly if your case is borderline. That’s why it is so important to take your hearing seriously. In my experience, I find that many of my clients get nervous in front of the judge and just want to get things over with as quickly as possible. As a result, they give short, blunt answers that don’t reveal how much they are suffering. It is important to give expressive, detailed answers to questions, so the judge can fully understand your disability. Remember, this is the only chance the judge will have to see you, so you need to make it count.
Questions from the Judge to See If You are Lying
Many times, judges will review your medical records prior to, or during, your hearing and ask you questions based on your records. These questions are often designed to trip you up. For example, you may have discussed with your doctor the fact that you still mow your lawn. The judge may read this and ask you if you still mow your lawn. If you say “no,” thinking that mowing your lawn will mean you’re not disabled; you could sabotage your whole case. Being able to mow your lawn doesn’t necessarily mean you are not disabled. But, lying about not being able to mow your lawn could destroy your credibility and make the judge think your entire case is a sham. There’s a simple way around this problem. TELL THE TRUTH!
I prepare my clients for Social Security hearings by practicing with them about a week or so before the hearing date. I ask them the questions I intend to ask at the hearing to give them a sense of what questions will be asked by me and the judge. I also want to get a sense of how my clients will answer the questions. I can then counsel my clients to better answer the questions to put their case in the most favorable light. Having a Social Security attorney on your side can be invaluable in preparation for a hearing and will put you in a much better position than just going in cold.
If you would like help from an experienced Gainesville Social Security attorney, give me a call today.