How to Win a Social Security Disability Hearing – 5 Tips
Posted on: July 9th, 2015 by Richard Cuthbert
Looking at the Social Security Disability Process from the outside-in, it can often seem confusing. On the one hand, we see news articles and stories stating that the Social Security Agency hands out disability benefits like candy. On the other, you certainly know someone who is truly disabled but has been denied benefits. What accounts for this discrepancy? How do you put your best foot forward and give yourself the best chance of winning your Social Security Disability hearing and getting benefits?
One explanation for this discrepancy between the competing narratives is that each State Social Security Disability Process is different and so is each region within each state. For example, in Alabama, 8.5% of the population is on Social Security Disability while in neighboring Georgia, only 4.8% of the population is on Disability. The reason for this is the Agency’s culture within each jurisdiction and within each region. Some Agencies are more liberal/compassionate and other jurisdictions are more conservative/tight. In Virginia, only 4.3% of our population is on Social Security Disability. We are slightly more conservative than the rest of the country, but it could be worse – we could be Texas or Utah with 3.8% and 3.0% respectively.
There are five steps in the process to being awarded Social Security Disability; initial application, reconsideration, hearing, appeals council, and federal court.
If you are reading this, you’ve likely made it to the hearing level. Here are some universal concepts for putting your best foot forward and making the most compelling case that you can:
- Almost everyone is denied at steps one and two: That is just how the system goes. Keep your head up. Your greatest chance of winning disability benefits is at Step 3 (the hearing level). And to some degree this makes sense. There are a lot of fakers out there and the Agency wants to make sure that you aren’t one of them. They want the decision maker to “eye-ball” you and that happens at Step 3.
- Tell the Judge what it is like to be you: At Step 3 you appear before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). It’s at Step 3 that the Agency actually puts you under oath and asks you questions. It is also at Step 3 where you get to tell the judge what it’s like to be you. THIS IS YOUR BEST CHANCE OF WINNING. Be descriptive. This is your only chance to talk to the decision maker (the ALJ). Do not hold back or put on a brave face. Do not be ashamed to tell the judge that you cannot bathe yourself, or that your back hurts and you need to stand up, or that some days you feel so depressed that you think life is not worth living anymore. These are difficult things to share, but they are necessary if you are going to effectively communicate how you are having to live day-to-day.
- Develop your medical history: This is probably the most important and in many cases the most difficult thing for a claimant to do. Most often, if you are applying for Social Security Disability, you don’t have insurance or the means (money) to get the healthcare you need. DO NOT GIVE UP. Find a free clinic or hospital and develop your record. In Central Virginia we have District 19 Community Services Board and VCU VCC. A record devoid of doctor appointments is a losing record. The ALJ will simply conclude that if you were not treating your condition, you were not hurting or your impairments were not very severe. This argument isn’t logically sound – but they reach this conclusion ALL THE TIME.
- Do not exaggerate: One mistake that I often see is exaggeration. A claimant will feel the need to exaggerate his or her condition in an effort communicate to the ALJ just how disabled the claimant is. More often than not, this backfires. For example, if the ALJ asks you: “on a scale of 1-10, 10 being so much pain that you need to go to the ER, what would you rate yourself right now?”. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a client say “10”. If you are not lying on the floor with tears streaming down your face, don’t not tell the ALJ you are a 10. This destroys your credibility. Another good example is a claimant’s response to the question: “how long can you sit at one time before needing to get up?”. If you say “10 minutes” and then sit for the next 30, you have destroyed your own credibility. Do not exaggerate. Exaggeration equates to lying and lying loses cases. ALJ’s want to help those who honestly need help, once they lose trust in what you have to say, you lose your case.
- Find a local attorney: Do not fall victim to the TV advertisers who claim to be able to help you with your Social Security Case. Sure, they will represent you, but there is nothing like the personalized service of a local representative who will take the time to discuss your case, create an individualized game plan, and see that game plan through to execution. If a lawyer does not have the time or ability to sit down with you to discuss your claim, find someone who does.
If you or anyone you know needs help with a personal injury claim or a social security disability claim, give us a call, or schedule a free consultation. This is all we do. 1-(804)-733-3100. (We do not charge anything to review a claim.)