The day has finally arrived! A hearing has been scheduled in your Social Security disability appeal. Now that the long wait is over, you are probably feeling anxious about your testimony. Worry not. Here are four easy rules we advise our Chicago SSD clients to follow to help them give their best testimony:
1. Be Honest
One of the most important factors a judge considers in making a decision in your disability case is your credibility. This involves much more than the judge’s “gut reaction” to your testimony. The judge must make a credibility finding regarding your testimony, and this finding must be based on specific criteria established in the agency’s rules. These criteria can be boiled down to this: Does what you say match the medical evidence in the record? If so, there will be no issues as to your credibility. For example, if you told your doctors you abused alcohol or drugs, you must be honest with the judge about that fact. If the records show you only went to see your psychiatrist three times last year, you cannot tell the judge you went every month. Think of your credibility as a sculpture; every time your testimony is inconsistent with the medical records, a piece of your sculpture is chipped away. Enough inconsistencies, and your case will no longer be standing.
Conversely, everyone makes mistakes, medical personnel included. Sometimes a note in a medical record is inaccurate. In an instance like this, revert to honesty. If you truly believe something in your records is a mistake, say so and explain why. Just make sure you are being honest with the judge and yourself.
2. Don’t Guess
Not everyone can remember every conversation with every doctor or therapist, or even how many times they may or may not have visited a certain physician or treatment facility. If you don’t know the answer to the judge’s question, do not take a guess. Simply state that you don’t remember. If you guess, and you are incorrect, you will only damage your credibility
3. Be Concise
While total honesty is the best policy, this does not mean that you should ramble on about everything you remember on a particular topic when the judge asks you a question. If, for example, the judge asks whether you have a high school diploma, a simple “yes” or “no” will suffice. If the judge inquires about when your back pain first started, an approximate date of your injury is all that needs to be said. If you launch into convoluted stories and long explanations, it can make you look like someone who is “trying” to get benefits instead of someone who “qualifies” for and deserves benefits. Besides, most of the details of your medical conditions are in the record. The judge really just wants to verify (or discredit) your alleged limitations by hearing what you have to say about them. If more explanation is necessary, your Social Security disability hearing lawyer will have the opportunity to elicit more details about your condition through questioning.
4. Be Detailed
Try to paint a precise picture of how your disabling condition affects your daily life. You could, for example, tell the judge your knee hurts “all the time.” Your testimony will be more persuasive, however, if you tell the judge something along the lines of, “My knee hurts all the time. I have trouble getting out of bed and standing first thing in the morning. During the day, I can’t sit or stand from more than 20 minutes or so at a time because of the pain. The pain wakes me two or three times a night.”
If you have questions about your upcoming Social Security disability hearing, or other questions about obtaining benefits, our Chicago Social Security disability hearing lawyers have answers. Contact us today. Use the email form on this page to tell us about your situation and schedule a free consultation or, if you prefer, reach out to us by phone.