Winning your social security disability hearing

By Michelle Shvarts
Principal Attorney

Almost 10 million Americans depend on social security disability claims each year. Unfortunately although disability applicants are shortlisted exclusively on eligibility requirements, they are awarded on the need-based basis amongst the pool of shortlisted claimants. This means that among the total number of applicants, only around 4.6% are actually awarded the claims.

The good news is, the initial rejection is not final. The SSA provides you various ways to re-appeal to their decision, if you think that your application was denied unjustly. One option to re-appeal is the administrative law judge, ALJ hearing.

Unlike other methods of the re-appeal, the hearing actually gives you a chance for direct representation in front of a local judge. This means that you can fully present your case without any chances of being misinterpreted or denial unjustly. This also imposes a greater responsibility to be the best representative of you to win the case.

Here are some common mistakes you may want to avoid in your ALJ hearing:

Over exaggerating

The hearing is the place where you need to fully represent yourself without sounding like a homeless person begging for some pennies for their day time meal. Yet many people simply over exaggerate their symptoms or sufferings that may only hurt their case. Remember, the judge may already have your medical documentations or physician statements, work records and educational documents in front of them. Over exaggerating or twisting those facts may simply lead to a quick denial of your claims due to incredibility of your statements.

Under statements

As opposed to over exaggerating, some claimants simply understate their symptoms or hide facts thinking that it may make them sound weak or appear as them whining. This situation may come off as negative in a hearing – such as an inability to wash or bathe themselves, or an inability to go to work being understated by the claimant, ‘Oh, it is not that severe, I can bathe myself if I want to’, ‘I can actually leave the house, my anxiety disorder appears less sometimes’; statements such as these may simply imply to the judge that your are completely fit to lead a normal life and hence deny your social security claims.

Inappropriate or naïve statements

The administrative law judge, ALJ may simply ask straight questions which should be answered honestly but also precisely. Providing unsolicited information or naïve statements may not only hurt your case but also deny future possibilities of your family getting any benefits under your record. Statements such as these may harm your case:

  • Oh my spouse is already receiving their benefits;
  • I had a problem with drugs once;
  • I have a small criminal record;
  • I forgot to follow my doctor’s prescriptions;
  • I can’t get to work because I don’t have a car;
  • I want to work in the town branch of my company but they are not hiring;

Vague or incomplete answers

Also, the ALJ is likely to inquire in-depth details about your impairment such as the density, frequency or time intervals of your symptoms. Answering those questions vaguely may simply lead to a denial. For instance, the ALJ asked you frequency of your panic attacks to which you answered, ‘Oh I get panicked all the time’.

Failing to represent yourself

Remember, a hearing is not a job interview where you need to hide your symptoms or overstate your physical disabilities. However, it is also not a peer-to-peer conversation that should be taken lightly. It is your best chance to represent yourself with truest specifics and honest replies to questions related to your situation. Many people fail to come up with an appropriate plan to represent themselves by going at it alone.

Hiring a social security attorney will not only help you prepare for your hearing but they may also represent you on your behalf for a better chance of a winning outcome.

About the Author
Ms. Shvarts is the managing attorney for Disability Advocates Group. She opened Disability Advocates Group to assist individuals who became disabled and unable to work to obtain the benefits they need and deserve.  Ms. Shvarts and the rest of the team at Disability Advocates Group are dedicated to assisting individuals obtain Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.