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What Will I Have to
Say at My Hearing

   You have waited for many months.  Perhaps even years.  Finally, your Social Security disability hearing has been scheduled.  What are you going to have to say to the judge when you get there?

   Fortunately, Social Security hearings are a lot more informal than most other court proceedings.  There is no opposing attorney to cross examine you - instead, the only people who will be asking you questions are your own lawyer and perhaps the judge.

   While Social Security administrative law judge hearings are less formal than other court hearings, you still have to be prepared.  You can and should be prepared to discuss the following:

  • be prepared to discuss your work background over the past 15 years - if you can, it is wise to make a list of all jobs you have held over the past 15 years, including the name of the employer, the dates of employment and a brief job description. 
  • You should be able to discuss each of these past jobs briefly.  You may also be asked why you left a particular job and whether you might be able to perform that job now.
  • Past employment information is important to the judge since the main issue in your case has to do with your capacity for work.  Speak with your lawyer about whether it makes more sense to submit this job history background in writing before the hearing to save everyone time.
  • be prepared to identify your medications and their side effects, especially those side effects that would create job limitations.  For example, pain medications that make your drowsy or that cause frequent urination are vocationally significant.
  • be prepared to describe in detail the medical problems that result in job limitations.  Do not hesitate to make a list of each condition along with three or four points you want to bring out.  Even though you have lived with these conditions for years, you will be nervous at your hearing and it is possible you might forget to mention an important medical problem.
  • if your medical or mental health problem causes mood swings or severe depression or anxiety, bring a witness.  It is very difficult to describe your own symptoms relating to mood and state of mind
  • Remember that a medical or mental health condition is important for Social Security purposes if it impacts your capacity for work activity.  Before the hearing discuss with your lawyer the conditions and work limitations that your lawyer feels will best support your argument.
  • In many cases, the judge will assume that you cannot perform complicated work or work involving heavy lifting.  Therefore, in the judge’s mind, the issue will be whether you could perform a simple, sit down type of job - a job such as serving as a ticket taker at a movie theatre, a foil wrapper or a hand packer.  Why are you unable to perform one of these simple jobs? 
  • be aware that your lawyer will not be able to ask you leading questions.  He cannot suggest the answer in the questions (i.e., can you tell us about the bad headaches you have been experiencing for the past 7 years).  You are going to have to remember what is wrong.  Again, this is where note cards or a note sheet can come in handy. Judges understand that people get nervous.
  • Avoid answering questions with a nod of the head or an “um huh.”  Your hearing will be tape recorded and those type of answers mean nothing.  If the answer is “yes,” say “yes,”  
  • Finally, remember that most hearings last about an hour, so your experience testifying will be over sooner than you think.  If you are concerned about what might be asked, have your lawyer practice with you until you feel comfortable answering questions clearly and briefly.
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