Whether you applied for Social Security Disability benefits or someone you know applied for benefits, you may be called to testify at a Social Security Disability hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Your testimony at a Social Security Disability hearing is crucial to your claim. Not only will your testimony provide additional support that you, or a loved one, have a qualifying disability, but it is also your opportunity to explain away any misgivings that the Social Security Administration has regarding your qualification for disability benefits.
Preparing to Testify at a Social Security Disability Hearing
If you are going to be testifying at your Social Security Disability hearing, or if you are going to testify on behalf of another at such a hearing, to ensure your best testimony, there are things you should do well in advance of the time you enter the courtroom. Most of us do not testify on a regular basis. Consequently, it can be a nerve wracking experience. By taking the time to prepare ahead of time, you will be able to thoughtfully consider possible events, and plan for your responses.
Review What You Have Already Submitted
Take a few minutes to review the documentation that has already been provided to the Administrative Law Judge in your case. Look at your original application, as well as your medical file. Take a moment to review when your medical information was submitted. Review any diaries you have recording your symptoms and restrictions or limitations. Have you seen a doctor or other medical professional (including mental health professionals) since the file was submitted? If so, make sure to update the Social Security Disability file.
Once you have assured yourself that your Social Security file is up to date, review what has been submitted. This will allow you to understand what the Administrative Law Judge already knows about your case.
Pause and Reflect
If you are going to testify at a Social Security Disability hearing, you have something to provide to the Administrative Law Judge over and above what is in the medical file. Stop and consider what you will contribute to the Administrative Law Judge’s understanding of your condition or your loved one’s condition. This is the time to talk about your abilities, limitations, and struggles. Whether you are testifying about yourself or a loved one, consider what concrete examples you can provide to illustrate the point. For example, “She’s tired all the time,” is not particularly illuminating. Rather, consider providing more specific information, such as “She gets up at 8 in the morning and by 11:00, she’s back in bed, napping. She usually gets up again around 2:00 pm, and can stay awake until after dinner. But then she goes back to bed for the night by 7:00 pm.”
If there are three different challenges that you or your loved one faces, come up with concrete examples to illustrate each of these challenges. By taking the time to do this ahead of the hearing, you will be assured that you have come up with the best examples to illustrate your points.
When You Go to Testify at a Social Security Disability Hearing
What to Wear
This is a judicial proceeding, and should be treated accordingly. You should dress in a manner that makes it clear to the Administrative Law Judge that you have respect for him or her, and for the proceedings. If you have a suit, wear it. For women, if you do not have a suit, a nice button down blouse and dress pants or a skirt that goes at least to the knee is appropriate. For men, a button down shirt and khakis or dress pants is appropriate.
What to Expect
You should expect to be sworn in before you testify at a Social Security Disability hearing. First you will be asked some preliminary questions, such as your name, address, perhaps your age, as well as your relationship with the relevant party, if you are testifying at someone else’s hearing. Once the preliminary matters have been put on to the record, the Administrative Law Judge will begin questioning you. Judges are people, just like everybody else, and as you might expect, different judges will have different preferences as to how they like to proceed with their questioning. Some might have a very relaxed and open attitude. They might simply ask, “What would you like me to know about this person?” and let you provide a narrative. Others may ask more detailed, specific questions, such as “What have you observed?” “When did you see this?” “How often does this occur?” You probably won’t know your Judge’s style until you are in the courtroom.
The critical thing to keep in mind when you testify at a Social Security Disability hearing is to listen to what questions are being asked, and answer those questions only. Do not provide commentary about things you have not been asked about. Administrative Law Judges have wide latitude when it comes to deciding whether or not to take your testimony. If you launch into narrative, providing details that are all included within your medical file, which the Judge has already read, the Judge may decide you have nothing of value to add to the case. She may cut you off before you get to the important part of your testimony, which, in the judge’s mind, will be the answer to the question she asked you.
Understand that when you are done answering the Judge’s questions, you may be asked additional questions by your representative, or the representative of your loved one. This will provide another opportunity to provide relevant information. Because the representative is in the best position to determine what the Administrative Law Judge should know, you may rest assured that any information you have that was not brought out during the questioning of the Judge can be brought out by the representative.
A Critical Piece of Information When Testifying
When you testify at a Social Security Disability hearing, you are under oath. This means you have agreed to tell the truth. If you do not tell the truth, you could be subject to civil and criminal penalties for your perjury. In other words, you could be subject to a fine or jail or prison time. Consequently, it is critical that you not exaggerate or stretch the truth. Simply provide factually accurate information.