In our recent blog 8 Tips to Winning Your Social Security Disability Case, we said that honesty is always the best policy. We also recommended that you don’t overshare, e.g. bringing up a criminal record or a history of drug abuse if you’re not asked about it. If you are asked, it’s not grounds for dismissal and it’s likely they will find out about it anyhow, so stick to the truth. That said, here are five statements that are probably going to hurt you when you go before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
“I do nothing but lay in bed all day.”
If this is actually true due to disability, by all means, let the ALJ know. But too often, applicants will “play up” the physical limitations related to their disability in hopes of a slam-dunk win. But remember, ALJs have presided over hundreds or thousands of these cases, and they’re heard it all before. When they ask about your daily activities, be honest (of course, if you’re practicing for a 4K run, remember not to overshare). You don’t have to be bedridden to receive disability; you just have to be unable to perform the functions of your job.
“I’m not working because no one will hire me.”
This answer usually follows the question, “Why can’t you work?”, and it’s the wrong one. Nothing turns an ALJ against you quicker than if they think you’re trying to use disability as a substitute for unemployment benefits. It doesn’t matter how tough the job market is or how long you’ve been looking, disability benefits are for those physically or mentally unable to maintain consistent full-time employment. The answer to this question should be, “I’m not working because my disability limits me.” If you’ve been fired from your previous job because of your inability to complete tasks, let it be known. Being fired for disability is not going to be held against you; in fact, it supports your stance that you need disability benefits to get by.
“I’ve never touched drugs or alcohol.”
If this is in fact true, more power to you—let the ALJ know! But if past medical or criminal records will prove otherwise, as mentioned numerous times, stick with the truth but don’t overshare; if you hit happy hour every day, leave that out. But come clean with past behaviors if there is record of them. If you get caught in a lie, your goose is cooked along with your credibility. (If you’ve been prescribed medical marijuana, you may want to read our story Can Medical Marijuana Hurt My Disability Case?).
“I don’t go to the doctor anymore because it doesn’t do any good.”
That’s a loaded answer! You’ve just informed the ALJ that not only do you not go to the doctor regularly, you were once given a treatment plan and discontinued it on your own because it “didn’t do any good.” The ALJ wants to know that you’re seeing your doctor regularly (this also gives you a larger volume of evidence to support your claims) and that you’re following the doctor’s orders, whether it’s medications or physical or mental therapies. Even if you don’t think the treatment is working, it’s best to follow the regimen so that you can say, “I’ve done everything my doctor told me to but it isn’t working.”
“You know what, I can do my job!”
Wait…what? It’s true. When standing before an ALJ and being asked why they’re unable to work, a sense of pride kicks in for some people. After years of hard work and being able to support themselves, some applicants simply find it too difficult to admit out loud that they can no longer get by without government help. While that’s very noble, it’s counterproductive to all you’ve done up until that point to get in front of the ALJ. Remember, you put in all those years of work so that you could receive the benefits you deserve when you need them.
Afraid you’ll say the wrong thing, or just want someone on your side? Hiring a professional disability advocate when applying can increase the likelihood of winning your disability case because they’ve been there before, and they can help present your case and provide guidance and coaching.
If you still need to apply for benefits, download the Ultimate Guide to Applying for Disability now. And if you are anticipating a hearing or already have a date already set but want to speak with an expert, contact the professionals at Disability Experts of Florida (DEF) today.