For many people who apply for Social Security Disability benefits, one or more hearings are necessary to finally be approved for benefits. Therefore, it's important to know what to expect at a hearing and what mistakes you might make or might have made in a previous hearing that you should avoid in the future. Take a look at some common missteps that people seeking disability benefits make so that you'll know what to avoid in the future.
Exaggerating Your Disability
When asked about the severity of your disability, it can be hard to know how to answer. Of course, you want the court to understand the seriousness of your medical issue. It's not uncommon for people to misunderstand the nature of a chronic condition – you may have run into friends and family members who see you on a good day and don't understand why you can't work, not realizing that the bad days outweigh the good, or that you would not be able to perform any job duties on days when your symptoms were in full force. If you suffer from an invisible disability, you may even have been accused of faking.
All of this can lead to an understandable impulse to exaggerate the severity of your symptoms in order to be taken seriously. You may be tempted to say that you never have good, pain-free days, or that nothing that you can do relieves the pain. However, you should remember that in this case, you'll be talking to people who deal with the details of disabling conditions every day. They're aware that symptoms usually ebb and flow and can often be relieved with pain medications or other treatments. If you inflate the severity of your symptoms, you'll be less likely to be taken seriously.
Downplaying Your Disability
Another common mistake is downplaying the extent of your disability. Once again, this can be a side effect of living with a disability – you may find yourself frequently reassuring worried family members or friends that you're not in any immediate pain or danger, or that you can do things for yourself. If this is the case, it can become second nature to insist that your symptoms aren't that bad, and that you're OK.
However, in your disability hearing, you're not there to reassure anyone or convince anyone that you can be self-sufficient – you're there asking for help. Downplaying your symptoms is counterproductive. When asked about the severity of your pain or the frequency of your symptoms, it's important to be honest and accurate. Don't worry about what you think sounds best or least upsetting. Just tell the truth.
Giving Vague Answers
One more mistake to avoid is vague or indirect answers to questions about your condition and your symptoms. The judge at your hearing will expect someone who is truly suffering to be able to describe exactly how they are suffering, so use the most descriptive language possible. Don't just say that you have pain – describe the pain. Is it throbbing or stabbing? Burning or stinging? Shooting or aching? Words like these paint a clearer picture of what you're experiencing. It also helps to give time frames. Do you have five minutes of intense shooting pain multiple times a day, or five hours of aching, throbbing pain starting when you wake up in the morning?
You'll also want to come prepared with clear examples of how your disability ha affected your ability to work and impacted your daily life. Were you fired from your last job because you were no longer able to lift or you kept missing work due to needing medical care? Were you unable to attend a family function because of pain, depression, or anxiety? Are you unable to lift your small children, or sit on the floor and play with them? Specific examples will help make your case stronger.
It's also a mistake to go to a hearing without an attorney to help you prepare your case. An expert in disability law can do a lot to prepare you for your hearing and ensure that you get the result you're hoping for. If you don't have legal representation yet, meet with a disability attorney, like those from Horn & Kelley, PC Attorneys at Law, in your area before your hearing to find out how they can help you get your benefits.