Your social security disability benefits claim was denied, so you requested a hearing and you’re finally getting your day in court. While this is a great opportunity to finally be heard in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), for many people, the idea of a disability hearing can be intimidating which can lead to bad decision-making. But with proper preparation, the process doesn't have to be frightening and you can come out a winner.
Six Common Mistakes People Make At Social Security Disability Hearings
Here are six common mistakes to avoid in order to ensure your social security disability hearing goes smoothly and that your disability claim is not called into question or outright dismissed by the ALJ.
1. Sharing Unsolicited Information
Some people have a habit of providing too much information at their disability hearing. When given the opportunity to speak, they may overshare and that can lead to trouble. Now, while outright lying is never in your best interest, disclosing unsolicited information could damage your case and is counterproductive.
The following four situations, while not grounds for automatic disqualification, have the potential to derail your claim. If any apply to you, it’s best to keep them under wraps unless directly questioned by the ALJ:
- Prior rejected claims
- Prior criminal history
- Drug and alcohol issues
- Family members receiving disability
Three other job-related arguments to avoid making when standing before the ALJ:
- “There are no jobs available.” This implies that if there were jobs, you would be able to work and hence not in need of disability.
- “There are no jobs in my field.” Again, this implies that you are able to work a job, but just not willing to work one outside of your field.
- “There is no way for me to get to work without a car or license.” Between Florida public transit, carpooling, and today’s ride-sharing apps, no ALJ will consider this a valid excuse for disability.
2. Overexaggerating or Underplaying Your Situation
A surefire way to lose your social security disability hearing is to overexaggerate your symptoms. Remember, the ALJ has seen and heard it all before, which makes honesty the best policy. So unless it’s absolutely true, painting a picture of yourself as completely immobile and out-of-commission 24/7 could actually hurt your case. Remember, you don’t have to be bedridden to receive disability; you just have to be unable to go about your life as normal or perform the duties of your job due to physical or mental health condition, injury, age, etc.
Finally, though it’s more common for people to overexaggerate, others may underplay their symptoms due to their sense of pride. While this is admirable in many circumstances, it ultimately defeats the purpose of your hearing. You need to be completely honest with the ALJ, disclosing all weaknesses and impairments that complicate your day-to-day life and make it difficult or impossible to work.
3. Appearance and Actions Don’t Match Your Claim
An ALJ will likely raise an eyebrow if you say one thing about your condition but demonstrate the opposite. For example, you may testify that you have trouble sitting for any length of time, but then appear perfectly comfortable while sitting in the courtroom waiting to see the judge. Some people will also make the mistake of showing discomfort only after being questioned about it, which is a surefire way to make the ALJ think you’re at best exaggerating, and at worst completely fabricating, your condition.
4. Disregarding Courtroom Courtesy
While everyday etiquette may be becoming a thing of the past, proper behavior still rules in the courtroom. Don’t forget, the ALJ may hold your financial future in their hand, so to improve your odds of winning always do the following:
- Show respect. It’s understandable to become frustrated during a social security benefits hearing, especially if things don’t seem to be going your way. But being rude won’t help your case; remain polite, speak clearly, address the ALJ as “your honor,” “sir” or “ma’am,” and bite your tongue if needed!
- Arrive early. When it comes to the courtroom, if you’re on time, you’re already late. Be sure to arrive 30-minutes before your scheduled hearing; not only does it look good on you, it also provides extra time to mentally prepare.
- Dress appropriately. Proper attire shows respect for the judge; after all, this is their courtroom. Never wear shorts, tank tops, or flip-flops, even if it is a 100-degree Florida summer day. And don’t forget to take off your hat or ball cap.
- Last but not least: shut off that cell phone!
5. Failure to Comply with Doctor’s Orders
One way to surely lose sympathy with the ALJ is to not comply with your doctor’s instructions. This could mean not taking prescribed medicines, not using assistive devices, skipping for medical appointments, or disregarding recommendations for physical or mental therapy. If you are guilty of any of these, the ALJ may determine you don’t take your condition seriously, and that it’s not as severe or limiting as you claim.
6. Representing Yourself
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Law & Order, you should know that it’s always best to bring legal counsel. Navigating the law can be tricky, and no matter how solid you think your claim may be, there’s no such thing as a “slam dunk case.” An experienced disability attorney can help you prepare and present your case in a professional manner, increasing your odds of coming out on top at your social security disability hearing.
Need Help With Your Disability Benefits Claim or Appeal?
Navigating the social security disability benefits appeals process can be complicated. If you’d like help requesting a hearing with the social security administration office of hearings and appeals, or already have a hearing date set but want to speak with an expert, contact the professionals at Disability Experts of Florida (DEF) today. You have the right to be represented at this hearing and our disability hearing vocational experts have over 100 years of combined experience in handling cases at this stage. We have successfully helped hundreds of clients go before an ALJ and receive the benefits they deserve (check out a few of our success stories here), and may even be able to expedite the social security hearing decision timeline. Contact us today to discuss your case.