Testifying your disability hearing can be scary. The whole procedure is not meant to be intimidating. It is meant to be a conversation between you, the Judge, and your attorney. If you don’t have an attorney at this point I highly recommend you retain one.
When it is your turn to testify at the hearing you will simply be giving the Judge an explanation of what is going on in your life. How are your conditions affecting not only your ability to work but affecting your home life as well? The totality of your testimony will take approximately 20 minutes, depending upon the complexity of your situation. The number one thing you can do to help your case is to be a good witness. Your attorney should help prepare you to be a good witness for your disability hearing. Below is a list of 6 important tips to keep in mind:
Tell your story. This is your chance to tell the judge everything about why your condition prevents you from holding a job.
Be Descriptive. Do not use one-word answers. Stay away from responses like yes or no. This is your time to really explain to the Judge what is going on with you. You have waited a significant period of time to get your day in court…make sure to use it. Try to quantify your limitations. How often are you able to perform routine daily activities? Does it take you an hour to vacuum with two 10 minute breaks in between?
Tell the truth. Under no circumstances should you lie to the judge. If you do not know the answer to the question simply say so. Lying to the Judge will ruin your credibility and your whole case will go down the tubes. When the Judge asks a question don’t try to figure out why the Judge is asking that particular question or whether the answer will help or hurt your case. Along those same lines, don’t do any play-acting for the Judge. This is very transparent and will make you appear dishonest to the Judge.
Know your present abilities and limitations. In the days leading up to your hearing, pay attention to your daily symptoms. Write down how often you are having pain or if you are experiencing side effects from your medications. Estimate the length and intensity of your symptoms. Also, be prepared to estimate your limitations. This will help you paint a clear picture for the judge regarding your everyday life.
Be respectful. The Judge is not the right person to take your anger out on. The judge is not responsible for the problems you have had with social security or the significant wait time for your hearing. What the judge is responsible for is making a decision on your case. Make sure to stay calm and be respectful of the judge.
Do not compare yourself to others. The judge is concerned with your case…not anyone else’s. Comparing yourself to someone else will do nothing to help your case. In fact, it will only frustrate the Judge.
Make sure to arrive early for your hearing. Approximately 30 minutes early. In terms of what to wear, you do not need to dress up. Meaning you may wear whatever makes you comfortable, within reason of course. Pajamas are not recommended.
For you to be a good witness you should know the general structure of how your testimony will go. Your testimony is your chance to share your story with this Judge. The Judge has the option of performing your direct examination themselves, or they can allow your attorney to run the direct examination.
Regardless of who performs the direct examination, the same general format of questions will be asked. The first section of testimony will be the background questions. These questions will include:
- Age/date of birth
- Address and type of dwelling
- What is your marital status?
- Height/Weight/ right or left-handed
- How far did you go in school? Did you attend any special education classes? Are you able to read/write?
- Were you ever in the military?
- What is your current source of income? Does your spouse work?
- Do you have health insurance? How do you pay your medical bills?
- Do you have a driver’s license and are you currently driving?
The next section will cover your work experience. The Judge will only be concerned with your work history for the past fifteen years. You will need to explain every job you have held in that time frame, whether you filed taxes on that income or not.
- Are you currently working?
- When did you last work full-time?
- What job was that?
- Approximate dates of employment
- What were your job duties?
- Why did you leave this job?
- What was the job you did before that? (and so on…)
The next general question will usually be why you are not working. Or what are your most disabling conditions which prevent you from working? You should rank your medical conditions in order from the most severe impairment to the least severe impairment. Make sure to include every single limitation that affects your ability to work. You will need to explain your medical treatment for each condition, the medications you take, your symptoms including pain, and your resulting limitations. These limitations include difficulty you may have with sitting, standing, walking, lifting and carrying, postural limitations, and manipulative limitations.
The last section of your testimony will focus on your activities of daily living. The Judge wants to know what you do at home, how you perform chores, take care of personal hygiene, if you go out to dinner, travel, etc.
There is a lot more that goes into your disability hearing than just your testimony. Again, if you do not have an attorney representing you at your hearing you will be placed at a severe disadvantage. While the Judge is meant to be an unbiased individual, they are not there to protect your rights. They are simply there as a liaison between the federal government and yourself.