This article looks at how best to prepare for a Social Security Disability hearing.
The wait times for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearings has become extremely long. As U.S. News & World Report points out, the average wait time to see an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is now one year and four months, with some extreme regional variations. Furthermore, people typically have to wait and additional four to five months to learn the results of their case. These sorts of wait times can be excruciating for people who depend on disability benefits provided by Social Security. Given that wait times are so long, petitioners should do everything possible to make sure their first hearing goes well.
What the hearing is for
As the Social Security Administration points out, the main purpose of the hearing is to look at the evidence presented in the petitioner's appeal. As such, the ALJ will ask the petitioner a number of questions related to his or her case. These questions are designed to establish whether the petitioner's disability claim has merit.
What information to provide
It is extremely important to answer the ALJ honestly. Providing vague or evasive answers will only cause problems and may discredit the petitioner in the eyes of the ALJ. At the same time, however, there is no reason to provide more information than what the ALJ asks for. Far too many petitioners believe that if they share as much information as possible that this will somehow help their case. What could end up happening is that the petitioner inadvertently brings something to light that could harm his or her case.
For example, unless asked, there is no reason for a petitioner to tell the ALJ of his or her criminal record or to mention problems with substance abuse. Additionally, there is no reason to talk about how difficult it is to find work, since this statement could be misinterpreted as a petitioner being physically able to work, thus undermining his or her need for SSDI benefits.
Alternatively, a lot of petitioners believe they have to exaggerate their pain in order to convince the ALJ that they should receive benefits. Remember that ALJs have a lot of experience handling appeal cases. Claiming that one is in constant and excruciating pain when that is not the case could end up raising suspicions in the eyes of the judge. Petitioners want the judge to take their case seriously and exaggerations do nothing to further that cause.
Perhaps the best way of ensuring that one's hearing goes well is to work with a Social Security Disability attorney. Such an attorney knows how the hearing process works and will be in the best position to advance the petitioner's interests at the hearing. An attorney can also provide perspective and peace of mind to petitioners who are unfamiliar with how hearings typically work. By talking to an attorney as soon as possible, that attorney will be able to review one's case and help establish how best to go about the appeals process.