At your Social Security Disability Hearing in San Francisco the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has already reviewed all your medical records. He knows your doctor’s perspective on your condition, now he wants to get your perspective on your condition.
The ALJ will ask you lots of questions in order to get a better idea of your condition and how it affects you. To improve your chances of getting a favorable outcome, you want to be a good witness. Below is a list of 9 things you can do when testifying that will help you be a good witness:
- TELL THE TRUTH: The most important thing you can do is testify truthfully. Even one false statement can substantially diminish your credibility and hurt your chances of receiving a favorable decision.
- Be Specific- When the ALJ asks you a question, be as specific as possible. If the ALJ asks you how long you can stand, do not say “a little while.” To one person a little while could mean 2-3 minutes, however to another person it could be 2-3 hours. Make sure to quantify your answers so the ALJ knows exactly what you mean.
- Get to the Point: Judges hear several cases a day; they don’t have time for long, drawn out stories or explanations. They want to get the necessary information as quickly as possible. If the question is what medications are you currently taking, do not tell the judge every medication you have ever taken, simply tell him the medications you are currently taking.
- Give Complete Answers: Make sure when you testify that you are telling the whole truth. If the ALJ asks you whether you can wash dishes, and you can, say “yes.” However, if it takes you several hours to wash dishes due to pain in your hands, then you want to mention this. Instead of telling the ALJ “Yes, I can do dishes,” you should say “Yes, I can do dishes as long as I have several hours and can take frequent breaks to lie down.” Otherwise you are not telling the whole truth.
- Answer Verbally: A tape recording will be made of the hearing so it is important that you answer each question verbally. Do not nod or shack your head. Also, if the ALJ asks you to identify where your pain is, do not just point (as the recorder will not pick this up); make sure to state where specifically you are pointing.
- Do Not Answer a Question You Do Not Understand: If you do not understand what the ALJ is asking you, let him or her know. You want to make sure you understand what the ALJ is asking for so you don’t accidently give him incorrect, misleading or irrelevant information.
- Listen Carefully: Listen carefully to the questions being asked and always let the ALJ finish his or her question before responding. You want to make sure you are giving the ALJ the exact information he or she is looking for.
- Don’t Exaggerate: Embellishing your conditions or your limitations can really hurt your credibility. Make sure to give the ALJ an accurate representation of what you go through on a regular basis.
- Don’t Get Angry: The whole process of applying for Social Security Disability can be very long and difficult. You may feel like you have been put through the ringer, but don’t get angry with the ALJ. The ALJ is simply doing his or her job. There is nothing he or she can do to speed up the process.