Top 10 Mistakes People Make at Social Security Disability Hearings

When you are unable to work due to a medical problem, you may need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits. It is a long process that involves an application, a reconsideration appeal, and a hearing level. The hearing level is typically your best chance at success. If you need to request a hearing, you can do so on Social Security’s website.


At the hearing level, a Social Security judge speaks directly with you about your medical limitations. When you are planning for your Social Security Disability hearing, here are first 5 of these mistakes you can avoid (the other 5 will follow shortly):


  1. Worrying about why the judge is asking you a question. Many clients get caught up in this error at their Social Security hearings. Picture this. The judge at your hearing asks you about what you did yesterday. Immediately, you may wonder why is this judge asking me this? Was someone tracking me? Did I do something wrong? What if I tell him I walk my dog? See what happened here? Judges at these hearings cannot tell what typical days for claimants are like from just reading medical treatment records. The only way to get a sense of day-to-day limitations is to ask this and other simple questions. Clear your mind. Keep it simple. When do you usually get up? Do you make yourself breakfast? Do you go outside? Just answer the questions.


  1. Ignoring yes or no questions. It is annoying as a parent if your child cannot answer a simple question like, “Did you eat the last cookie?”  Either she did or she didn’t.  Explanations follow.  In Social Security hearings, many questions are very simple yes or no questions.  Do you drive?  Do you cook for yourself or your family?  Do you take your medicine as prescribed?  Listen to the questions at your hearing and, when appropriate, answer yes or no.  Explain your answer, if necessary, after.  This way, the judge gets answers to her questions.


  1. Avoiding answering questions. Another problem clients have at Social Security hearings is that they worry about certain subject areas.  A classic worrisome subject is past or present illegal drug use.  Be prepared to answer questions about past or present drug use directly, simply, and succinctly.  Do not waver or hope that the judge will change the subject.  A little hint:  The more a person at a hearing avoids answering a direct question, the more suspicion this raises.  If a direct answer (under oath) affects your ability to get approved for benefits, you should get a Social Security disability attorney to help you understand your options before going into the hearing.


  1. Worrying about how you look. This sounds simple, but it happens.  Social Security does not have a dress code for claimants at hearings.  My advice?  Wear what you are comfortable in that does not make you self-conscious.  Dressing in nice clothes is a sign of respect.  Dressing in bunny slippers (which has happened), well, you can guess what this is a sign of.  You are not putting on a show.  You are talking directly with a judge about an important problem:  You cannot work.  There is no “right” way to appear or act.  Be yourself.


  1. Arguing your answers rather than answering the question. Some people believe they are their own attorneys.  And in hearings, they insert arguments into their answers.  This does not work.  Worse, it is clear to judges when your answers carry an agenda.  For example, if a judge asks you how long you can walk in blocks, an argumentative answer is something like this: “Well, it depends.  My doctor wrote a letter saying that I can’t walk more than 100 yards.  You should have this letter.”  While this may be correct, the better answer is the direct answer: “I can walk about a quarter block.”  Leave the arguing to the end of the hearing or your Social Security lawyer.


Andrew Kinney, Esq., Hoglund Law Offices,