Filing for social security disability benefits is stressful. Presenting your disability to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Texas may be the most stressful part of the process. Most folks have never been in such a hearing, and have no real experience in what to expect.That is a large part of what I do as a Dallas Texas social security disability attorney. I help my clients understand what will happen in their social security administrative hearing and how to accurately establish their right to social security disability benefits.
Here's a short list of words and phrases that I as a social security disability attorney in Texas have heard in the ALJ hearing for 23 years that are not relevant and potentially harmful.
1. "I know plenty of people on disability that are not as bad off as me"
This is a common and understandable expression of frustration. Hard working Texans unable to continue to work are deeply offended that the disability insurance they expected to help them in their time of need is not there for them. When these claimants see or hear of persons collecting social security disability who appear to lead very active and full lives, it is like rubbing salt into their wounds. The ALJ, however, knows the social security disability assessment system is imperfect, and that many are collecting disability benefits that do not deserve them. But your social security disability ALJ hearing is about only one thing: are YOU disabled?
2. "I'd much rather be working: I could make a lot more than this social security disability"
Since this is true for nearly all social security disability claimants, the administrative law judge does not need to hear that from you. Moreover, the ALJ will have your earnings record and know how much you had been making in wages. She will know the monthly “pay cut” you are taking by getting social security disability.
3. " No one will hire me.”
A sad reality, perhaps, but not relevant. Folks with an extensive medical history or a lengthy on-the -job injury record often report they are turned down for jobs with phrases like “you’d be a liability to us” or “you would cost our insurance too much”. Most of the time in today’s litigation wary environment potential employers will just never call back. Another sad reality is that age discrimination is all too real. Texans over 50 year of age often find they never get a call back after a job interview, even when they seem perfect for the job. Social security disability does not, however, address job discrimination or the difficulties of finding a job. Of more concern to the ALJ is that this statement might reflect your belief that you can work, a conclusion that is very damaging to your credibility in asserting your are unable to work.
4. “I have been working since I was 15”.
The ALJ has your earnings records in front of her in your social security disability file. She doesn’t need to hear that fact from you, and it often times can be misconstrued as reflecting an attitude of entitlement, as if you are saying that you deserve benefits simply because you have been working a long time. The ALJ needs to know WHY you cannot work.
5. Vague words/phrase like “not much”, “it depends”, or “sometimes”.
The administrative law judge needs to know how often or how long you can perform functional activities, and she needs for you to tell her about the frequency and intensity of symptoms such as pain that would take you off-task in a job . Standard questions include:
• How long can you stand?
• How far can you walk?
• How long can you sit at any one time?
• How long could you sit TOTAL in a normal day?
• How often do your symptoms occur?
Claimants often respond to these frequency and duration-based questions with vague phrases like “sometimes”, “not often”, “every now and then”, and “it depends”. The ALJ needs to know with exact detail the frequency and duration of your ability to sustain functions like standing, walking and sitting as well of that of symptoms. One reason that this is a tough question for people is that frequency varies greatly from day-to-day. The ALJ needs for you to tell her, on average, what is the frequency of your syptoms or typical frequency. For example, a good answer to the question “how long can you stand” would be the following:
• “I can stand on average 45 minutes to 1 hour until I have to sit down because of the pain in my legs”
6. “I can’t work because I can’t drive to a job”
In the Dallas Fort Worth area, it seems the ability to drive is crucial to working and conducting a normal life. But social security disability benefits are not granted merely because one cannot drive to work, even if not driving is pursuant to doctor's orders. The inability to drive can help establish inability to return to past work as a truck driver or delivery person, but social security disability law requires inability to do any work.
7. “My wife/husband doesn’t want me working”
Spouses are usually the only one who sees claimants struggling with staying on the job in the midst of a severe and chronic disability. It is understandable that many worry about their spouse and encourage them to stop working. It is only marginally relevant, however, to proving your right to social security disability benefits. It is relevant to testify as to why you spouse encouraged you to quit your job. Talking about the problems and struggles you spouse has witnessed in you is relevant to your case, but the mere fact that you have a sympathetic spouse is not.
8.“I can’t work because I saw on the internet that my medications have all kinds of side effects.”
Probably many of us would not take our prescribed medications if we read the package insert listing all the possible side-effects. Medication side effects are relevant in a social security disability: the side-effects you are experiencing, not those that could be associated with your medications.
When Bill Clinton first ran for the Presidency the economy was in poor shape. Campaign manager James Carville thought that reality key to a Clinton victory, and is known to have written the phrase "it’s about the economy" on the chalk board at campaign headquarters to keep staff focused on that one critical message. As a claimant in a Texas social security disability administrative hearing your one focus is YOU: how your illness effects your ability to work.