Preparing for your Social Security Disability hearing should not be as stressful as everyone thinks. In fact, I can tell you one thing right now so you can breathe easy:
You already know all the answers your judge is going to ask you!
Nothing he’s going to ask you will be rocket science. I promise you.
Having said that, you still want to prepare for the hearing and I’m going to tell you exactly how I tell my clients to prepare.
Let’s do this!
Your Appearance at Your Social Security Disability Hearing is Important
When claimants are concerned about preparing for their hearing, the last thing on their minds is: “What should I wear?”
But I tell you, how you present yourself when you are in front of your judge is very important for the outcome of your case. Even if the judge doesn’t look at you when you first walk in the door. And even if you have one of those video hearings where the judge is not even in the room with you.
Why is appearance important?
Because while your disability is not a “show”, you still have to look the part. You don’t want to look like you’re acting but you need to show how difficult things are.
So here is my list of things you should consider when thinking about your appearance for your hearing:
- Wear clothes that match your disability.
If you have difficulties with your hands, don’t wear a button down shirt. If you can’t raise your arm above the shoulder, don’t wear a t-shirt.
- Avoid t-shirts or shirts with messages, even if positive.
You never know when “unicorns” or “the peace sign” can irritate the judge.
- Your shoes should also match your disability.
If you can’t bend, don’t wear shoes that require you to bend, even if your spouse can help you put your shoes on or tie your shoe laces.
- Flip flops are ok. So are slip-on shoes.
- For the women, don’t wear makeup! This is not the day to “look pretty”.
I once had a client who showed up with full makeup and a high ponytail when this person had a severe arm disability. I had her remove her make up right away but the pony ended up staying.
Guess what the judge asked her when we got to the part about daily activities? “How did you do your hair today?”
Her answer was: “My mother helped me“.
While it’s ok to get help and this help should not affect your ability to get benefits, until you explain all that, the judge already made assumptions and will already be suspicious of you after that.
Why risk it?
- For the men, leave the suits for “the suits”.
You don’t need to look like a professional even if you were one in the past.
- Leave the jewelry at home. This goes for men and women.
Yes, your wedding ring is ok. A very small necklace is fine too. But no “statement necklaces” or oversized rings from your “biker club”
- Cover your tattoos!
If they cover your arms, wear a long sleeve shirt, if possible. The main reason is you may get a conservative judge who will see “tattooed people” as “misfits”.
I know we are in 2017 and this is a ridiculous assumption, but if your judge is over 65 and “an old grump”, the last thing you want is his judgment being “blurred” by a tattoo.
Remember my tip about not wearing a t-shirt with messages? Tattoos are messages too. Cover up!
In regards to appearance for your hearing, the best tip I can give you is this:
Another important item we need to talk about is assistive devices (wheelchair, glasses, canes, walkers, etc)
Remember when you were completing your disability forms and one of the questions asked if you required assistive devices?
This is the time where your answers to those questions will have to be consistent with what the judge will see at the hearing.
If you require assistive devices, be sure to take them to your hearing. If you use a cane, a walker, a brace etc, be sure to have them with you, and also be sure that you have a prescription for them.
Have that prescription ready to go for the judge (or submit it before the hearing with your medical records).
If you don’t have a prescription but your doctor knows about it, be sure to get that record to the judge showing your doctor’s knowledge about that assistive device.
The reason is simple: a lot of “fakers” think that by bringing a cane and limping in front of the judge, they will get disability. If you don’t have a prescription, that becomes an issue because the judge may think you are “exaggerating” your impairments by using an assistive device.
A prescription or proof that your doctor knows about that device shows that you are a “credible witness”
When you require multiple devices like a wheelchair or a cane/walker to ambulate, pick one only. Don’t bring all of them to the hearing.
If the judge asks you about why you chose “this or that” assistive device that day, have you answer ready.
Explain that sometimes your choice has to do with a “good day/bad day“. Other times, you chose to use a simpler device because you have someone with you who can help you if needed.
Either way, you should know the answer to that question before you go to your hearing.
Show up Earlier for Your Hearing
I’m not talking about 2 hours earlier. If you plan to show up earlier, and you should, 45 minutes before the scheduled time is usually enough.
- You want to get yourself situated with the location of your hearing.
Most hearing offices are very busy and it’s not uncommon to spend at least 10 minutes or more looking for a parking space.
- If your hearing is out of town and in an unfamiliar area, arriving earlier will allow you to deal with flat tires, bad GPS coordinates, and traffic.
Arriving earlier will also allow you to find the building, the room, go through security and sign in for your hearing.
- If you have an attorney, it is always a good thing to have extra time to go over last minute questions and other last minute advice.
Psychologically Preparing for the Hearing
- Number one, no one will bite you. So please, relax and breathe!
- Don’t expect a hearing out of the movies. “I object!”.
It’s actually pretty boring.
Not that your impairment is boring, but the whole hearing set up is boring. Imagine your dining room and your dining room table. Imagine that at the head of that dining table is the judge.
Of course, they put the judge a little higher on a big desk/workstation. Right next to the judge is the court clerk who will be recording the hearing.
On one side of the dining table, you will see two microphones and two chairs. One for you and one for your attorney or representative (if you have one).
On the other side of the dining table is the Vocational Expert with his own microphone.
The Vocational Expert is brought into your hearing to analyze, based on your testimony and your medical records, if you are capable of doing any other jobs based on your limitations.
Occasionally, you will not see one because the judge prefers to do that analysis himself.
In some rare cases, a judge will call a “medical examiner, or M.E.” during the hearing to issue an opinion in cases where the medical records are a bit more complicated for the judge to assess.
The “M.E” will either appear by phone or by video.
I have never seen one appear in person. I imagine because they are usually busy doctors and driving to a hearing for one case will take too much time and cost the taxpayer too much money.
Finally, no one else other than the people above will be at your hearing. While you can call witnesses to testify on your behalf, they will still wait outside until they are called.
knowing this should help you visualize yourself in the hearing and it will take the fear of the unknown from the equation.
Social Security hearings are not the typical court “cattle call” where everyone watches all the cases on the docket until it’s their turn
Your privacy is taken seriously.
Not only because your medical records are confidential and will not be shared with the public. But there is also the issue of sensitive or embarrassing things that need to be talked about at the hearing such as bathroom needs, incontinence (fecal and urinary), traumas lived by the claimant in PTSD cases, like abuse or a horrific accident.
The list goes on.
Just know that you will be in a closed environment that is there to hear you. This is, after all, YOUR day in court!
Final Thoughts and Suggestions for your Hearing Preparation
- If you bring a driver (friend or family), suggest they bring a book because some hearings can take up to one hour or more.
Family or friends are usually not allowed in the room with you (some exceptions for example in child or mental cases when the person is unable to comprehend the proceedings).
- It’s ok to cry! In fact, they have a box of tissues waiting for you there. People cry in these proceedings for many reasons, including nervousness, sadness because of severe pain or the inability to live a normal life.
Judges are used to seeing people cry, including men crying!!!
Just keep a few things in mind when you do cry: While it is hard to control our emotions, make sure that you don’t make a scene. Outbursts in court are not a good idea unless you are prone to have them because of your medical condition (eg, Tourette’s).
I know it sounds crazy to say this but if do you cry at your hearing, try to stop as soon as you can.
Some judges don’t know what to do when people cry. Most of the time they freeze and stare at their computers hoping “this is over soon“. I’m not saying they are not sympathetic. They are just being human.
- Watch for the judge’s attention to your narrative if you are the type that likes to go “off-tangent” when answering a question.
I usually tell my clients: “keep your answers short and sweet! Don’t make your judge roll his eyes”.
If the judge asks you about your daily activities, focus on that!
The judge is not interested in the neighbor’s dog, or how the government sucks, or how the prices of rice have gone up.
- Don’t try to tell your entire story when the judge asks you open-ended questions like “what do you do all day?”
Focus on the theme of the question. If the judge asks about your daily activities, don’t start describing your illness from the time you stopped working and go over every MRI you have.
Concentrate on things like “the time you get up, when you take your meds, when you need a nap, what you can actually do at home (dishes, laundry)“.
Be sure to include time and limitations for…
…EVERYTHING YOU DO!
For example, “I can only wash dishes for 10 minutes and then I need to lay down for one hour to rest”. Or “I can only focus on a task for 10 minutes before I lose track of what I’m doing”.
Things like that.
- Never, EVER insult the judge or mumble something “snarky” if the judge says something you don’t like.
Judges will rarely say you have been denied at the hearing but they will call your attention if they see something in the records that needs to be addressed like a DUI conviction or drug use.
- Judges may ask tough questions like “how long were you incarcerated” or “I see here that you abuse drugs but you are claiming a disability for Panic Attacks and Hallucinations”. Or “ I see that you have Pancreatitis and yet you are still having two glasses of wine every day”.
Try not to get defensive and argumentative in this situation. In fact, if you have any of these issues, think about ways to make improvements such as going to rehab for drugs or alcohol addiction.
Show the judge that you “overcame” those issues.
People love an “underdog” story.
In the next post, I will show you how to prepare for your hearing questions, and how to create a roadmap to make sure you don’t forget anything you want to say at the hearing.
As a thank you, you will receive a Nifty disability checklist where you can write down all your medical information to keep track of your case.
Until next time,
Courses by Realtactics4disabilityclaims
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