Many of my clients are nervous about going to a hearing. You do not have to be afraid at a hearing in front of a social security judge. The judge is an administrative judge. What does this mean- it means that it is a non-adversarial setting. There is no attorney present that is opposing you. There may be a vocational expert present, but his/her job is to be neutral. The vocational expert is there to help the judge by presenting the judge with a list of possible jobs that the claimant could perform considering his/her age, educational background, past work experience and his/her medical conditions. If the vocational expert comes up with a list of jobs the claimant needs to explain to the judge why he/she cannot perform them or show the judge that the jobs listed are not available in sufficient numbers in the economy. There may sometimes also be a medical expert present. He/he also is neutral and is present to answer any questions the Judge may have about your medical condition.
The judge will ask questions of the claimant and if the claimant is represented will allow the claimant’s representative to also question the claimant. The questions are designed to help the judge make an informed decision on whether the claimant is disabled. It is very important to be honest and sincere. If the Judge feels that you are not telling the truth he will not find you credible. If the Judge does not find you credible then the Judge may not believe any of your testimony. Do not be afraid to talk to the Judge- when you talk to the Judge talk as if you are telling a friend a story. Be as detailed as you can. Do not say that you cannot sit for a long period of time. As an example, tell the judge that you can only sit for 10 minutes at a time before you have to stand up due to the pain you experience. Then you have to stand for at least 10 minutes before you can sit back down.
The judge will also review the file and all of the submitted medical records in order to make a decision. That is why it is imperative for the claimant to make sure that his/her file contains all of the relevant medical records. The claimant may need to explain to the judge any negative information that is contained in the file. An example is that the doctor writes down that he feels the claimant’s condition is not as severe as the claimant states it is. This cannot be overlooked as the judge will see it in the file and pretending the statement does not exist will not help your case.
It would be helpful for you to keep a daily journal of your daily activities as these are brought up at a hearing. The judge wants to know what you do each day- if you are able to cook, clean and drive to events the judge will want to know why you cannot work. Be honest in your assessment and do not tell the judge that you do nothing. The judge will not believe that you do nothing- everyone does something even if it is just sitting in a recliner watching television.
Please remember that this is just general information, and everyone’s situation is unique. This article should not be considered legal advice.