I was recently reading some other blogs and came across a website and blog by Tim Moore, a former disability adjudicator who used to work for the Social Security Administration. Mr. Moore is now in private practice, a non-attorney accredited representative. He has an extensive website and blog. One of the questions he addresses on his website is, “What Holds Up the Processing of a Social Security Disability or SSI Claim?” He answers by stating that what often delays the processing is that the Social Security Administration is waiting to receive the claimant’s medical records. Even though they order them as soon as the claim has been filed, the medical providers often take time to respond. He notes that it is sometimes best for the claimant to provide the records to the Social Security Administration so that the time waiting may be reduced.
Before filing a new initial claim I always order the records and then submit them directly to the Social Security field office immediately after I have filed the claim electronically. I recently though was at an interview in one of the field offices in San Francisco and the claims representative told me that he could not accept the records I was submitting because he was only permitted to fax 15 pages to the state agency disability examiner. I tried my best to smile and politely replied that perhaps he could mail them to the state agency. I suspect that the claim will be denied initially (as most are) and eventually when it gets to the hearing stage, I will be able to review the file and see if he actually submitted the records. I hope that at least by submitting the records at the outset, the case will proceed to a hearing faster than perhaps it would otherwise.
I would like to give you some of the tips I use in preparing my clients for their Social Security hearings in front of Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”). In Social Security hearings, the claimant does most of the talking, not the lawyer. It is very unlike any court room drama you may have seen on television.
- Dress appropriately. For further details on how to dress, see my previous blog entry on how to dress for your Social Security disability hearing.
- Do not answer a question unless you understand it completely. When answering questions, make sure you understand what is asked. Sometimes judges (and lawyers as well) do not ask questions clearly. It is perfectly fine to ask the judge to repeat the question or to rephrase it.
- Look at the judge when answering the questions. The judge is trying to determine the answers to two questions: 1) Are you telling the truth? And, 2) Are you disabled? The judge will look carefully at how you are answering the questions in order to determine your credibility. Answer clearly and look directly in the judge’s eyes when answering. Even if using an interpreter, look at the judge when answering.
- Speak clearly in a loud enough voice to be heard at the other end of the room. There are microphones in the hearing room but they are not there to make your voice louder; they are used for the recording of the hearing. In order for the judge to hear you, you need to speak a little louder than you would in a normal conversation. Also, because the hearing is recorded, it is best to speak louder so that a good recording is made. If you need to appeal the case later, the recording will be turned into a written transcript. You want to be sure that the transcriber can hear you so that it is known what you said.
- Completely describe the body part that hurts or is in pain. Because your hearing is recorded, you cannot say, “It hurts here.” Although obvious during the hearing where “here” may be if you are pointing at it, it is not obvious later when reading the transcript. Be sure to specify that your left shoulder hurts or you have right leg pain that extends from your knee down to your toes. Sometimes a lawyer or a judge will make the record clear by stating what you are pointing to but in case you are not represented, you will need to specify this yourself.
- Be polite, but firm. You should show respect to the ALJ by being polite, but remember this is also your day in court that you have waited two years for. If you are in the middle of answering a question and the Judge cuts you off in mid-sentence, it is perfectly fine to say, “Excuse me, your honor I would like to finish my sentence.” Certainly there are time limitations, but if you are in the middle of something that you think is crucial to your case, you certainly have a right to finish your thoughts.
I cannot guarantee you will win at your hearing with my tips but at least you will be better prepared. Good luck!