When claimants for disability benefits think of their upcoming hearing, many feel nervous. Who can blame them: when most people think of a legal hearing, they remember courtroom scenes from movies and television. Thankfully, Social Security Disability hearings are nothing like that. The Social Security Administration does not have a lawyer waiting to hammer you with questions. The process is fairly laid back. Either the judge will have your attorney ask you questions or he/she will ask you the questions.
It is important, however, to be well prepared before going to your hearing. The following are some general tips, but of course each case is different. Your attorney should spend quite a bit of time with you before the hearing to address your specific situation.
Be honest. Don’t lie at your hearing, ever. The judge needs to believe you.
Don’t exaggerate. Again, credibility is a factor. If you say that your pain is at a level 10 on a daily basis, the judge will wonder how you managed to get to the hearing. But you don’t want to understate your symptoms, either. Don’t let pride get in the way of accurately describing your impairments.
If you don’t know the answer, just say, “I don’t know." If you don’t remember something, it’s ok to tell the judge that you don’t remember. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand the question.
Be specific. This is your chance to tell your story, to help the judge understand what your life is like. For example, tell her where your pain is, what it feels like, and how often it occurs. Give specific time frames, like “once or twice a week" or “3-4 hours at a time" as opposed to “frequently" or “for a long time."
Answer the question asked. Give detail, but stop talking once you have answered the question. This is something I practice with my clients before the hearing. Sometimes when we are nervous we tend to keep talking for far too long.
Refer to the judge as “Your Honor", or “Judge", and be respectful at all times.
Use your own words. The judge has (hopefully) read the medical records and knows what your doctors think. He wants to know your experience. Don’t use big medical terms. Speak just like you normally do.
With some preparation and thought, you will be ready to face your hearing with confidence. If you have a lawyer, insist that he or she adequately prepares you before the hearing.