Social Security Disability Hearing: How to Act Before a Judge

Be polite and concise, and most importantly, answer the judge's questions.

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While Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who work for Social Security decide disability cases mainly on the weight of the medical evidence, including x-rays, lab panels, treatment notes, and statements from physicians, an applicant's appearance and testimony can be taken into account as well. Here's how you should act in front of the ALJ at your disability hearing.

Show Up on Time

There is simply no excuse for being late for your disability hearing. You will know the date, time and location of the hearing in advance. Do a dry run to make sure you know where to go, leave extra early, and plan in advance for an emergency such as how you will get there if your planned ride is suddenly unavailable.

Be Polite

Remember that the hearing is not adversarial. Any stress you have been feeling because your initial disability claim was denied needs to be checked at the door. The disability hearing is not the time or place to be rude or to vent your frustration at "the system." Your words, actions and attire should be polite and respectful. Calling the judge "Your Honor" is a sign of respect, as is standing when the ALJ enters the room.

Be Prepared

Take some time to review your medical file before the hearing. Make sure you are able to quickly and naturally answer questions about your medical condition, treatments, medications, and your limitations. Organizing your file is a good way to review information and dates.

Be Honest

Your responses to a judge's questions should be full, forthright, and honest. Don't exaggerate your medical condition, pain, or the limitations caused by your physical or mental impairments. ALJs who hear disability cases hold hundreds of hearings each year (sometimes holding as many as four to six hearings in a single day) and are particularly adept when it comes to spotting such attempts. 

By the same token, though, SSDI and SSI Claimants should never minimize the extent to which their impairments affect them daily.If you can't even tie your shoes without gasping in pain, say so. Be truthful about how your condition interferes with your ability to work and perform basic life tasks.

Be Specific

For instance, if a claimant's condition, or the pain resulting from that condition, has the effect of restricting the range of motion in a particular joint, the level of strength in a muscle or extremity, or interferes with a claimant's ability to stoop, or even sleep for lengthy periods (back pain often has this effect), this should be pointed out to the judge hearing the disability case.

Answer the Questions You're Asked

The ALJ does not have time to hear the entire history of your disability and your medical condition. If and when you are asked questions, answer the question you were asked without providing additional information. You might inadvertently embellish with details that hurt rather than help your case. For guidance on how to answer the judge, see our article on answering questions at a disability hearing.

Updated by: , J.D.

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