If your Social Security Disability application has been repeatedly denied, you'll eventually make your way to a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). These judges have the power to overturn denials from the Social Security Administration (SSA) based on their review of the evidence and your testimony -- so how you give your testimony is extremely important.
While there's no such thing as the "perfect" answer that will unlock your benefits, there are some answers that are distinctly better than others. Here are some examples of how to handle commonly asked questions:
1. Why can't you work?
Be specific. Nobody knows your condition and limitations better than you do. Focus specifically on what limits you from working and give concrete, descriptive details. For example, you might say, "My psoriatic arthritis makes it impossible for me to stand or sit for more than an hour at a time. The pain is intense in my hands, feet, and lower back. Because of the pain, I often have difficulty concentrating well enough to do my job. If I take medication to control the pain, the medication makes me sleepy and unable to think clearly."
The worst type of answer you can give in this situation is to say something like, "Nobody will hire me." That implies that you're capable of working if you could find a job.
2. Why haven't you followed your doctor's orders (or sought additional treatment)?
This is a sticky question for a lot of people. Usually, the answer is that without your benefits -- and the insurance that comes along with it -- it can be impossible for people to get the medical care they need to try to treat their condition. If there are gaps in your medical history or you didn't follow through with planned physical therapy or testing because you simply couldn't afford treatment, be honest about it and explain that to the judge. You generally won't be penalized for being unable to afford treatment.
There are some decidedly less favorable answers you can give to this question, however. Things like, "I don't have a car, so I couldn't get to the doctor's office," and "I had tried physical therapy before and I knew it wasn't going to work anyhow," will not garner much sympathy from the ALJ.
3. How bad and constant is your pain?
Since pain is a factor in many disabilities, this is a common question. People often trip over this question because they're afraid that if they admit that their pain comes and goes, their claims will be denied. Frankly, the ALJ expects you to say that you have good days and bad days and that your pain is aggravated by certain things and made better by others.
A good answer is something like, "My pain varies a lot, depending on the weather and what I've been doing. If it's raining or I have been overly active, it can shoot up to an 8 out of 10. It may stay that way for a couple of days before calming down. If I take my pain meds, get some rest, and use a heating pad, I can get it to settle back down to a 5 out of 10 until the next flair."
For more information on how to handle your hearing with the ALJ, talk to a Social Security Disability lawyer today.
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