5 pitfalls to avoid at your Social Security Disability hearing

If you're pursuing Social Security Disability benefits, you may be feeling anxiety about your hearing with the administrative law judge (ALJ). This is perfectly normal, especially if you're not familiar with the claims process and don't know what to expect.

To put your mind at ease, we've compiled five things not to do at your hearing. With a little information and preparation, you can go in with much more confidence - and improve your chances of securing the benefits you deserve.

  1. Don't make statements that could hurt your case. You are legally required to answer the ALJ's questions honestly, but you are not obligated to volunteer information that could hurt your case. Unless the judge specifically asks, it is wise to avoid topics like criminal history, drug or alcohol use, any deviation from your doctor's recommendations or any other factors that could influence your ability to work, such as lack of transportation.
  2. Don't overstate - or understate - your symptoms. It is important to strike the right and speak about your symptoms realistically. Minimizing your symptoms could make the ALJ think that your disability isn't severe enough to warrant benefits. On the other hand, exaggerating your symptoms might raise red flags and prevent them from taking you seriously.
  3. Don't be vague. The administrative law judge is tasked with evaluating the extent to which your disability affects your daily life. Give them the information they need to make that evaluation. Try to think of specific instances when your disability caused problems for you. You should also think about how to quantify and describe your symptoms. For example, how many hours a day do you experience pain? How many nights has your anxiety prevented you from sleeping? Are you experiencing burning, shooting, stabbing or aching pain? The more specific you are, the more compelling your case will be.
  4. Don't try to do it alone. Every denial puts more time between you and the benefits you need. To learn what you can expect in a hearing and maximize your chances of being approved, work with an attorney who has experience with the SSD claims process.
  5. Don't give up. If the hearing doesn't go your way, that doesn't mean you've reached the end of the road. Most applications for SSD benefits, including many legitimate ones, are denied the first time around. If your application is denied, it is vital that you speak with an attorney to learn more about the next steps and improve your chances of securing benefits.

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