Administrative Law Judge’s are now routinely giving the claimant in a social security disability hearing the “last word”.While many of the questions an ALJ asks a claimant during the course of the hearing are very specific, a closing query such as “Is there anytihing else you would like me to know?” is broad and intended to insure that the ALJ has all the pertinent information so as to render a fair and impartial decision.
Claimants can often react to this question with some anxiety, thinking they might have left something important out. After all, they have in most cases been waiting over a year for this chance to tell their story to the social security administration. I prepare my clients for this question, but I remain tense when it comes along. In a hearing in which I have done my job to bring out the salient facts and evidence, and one I feel has gone well, further statements can feel like a chance to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The disasterous 2015 play call by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in the last Super Bowl comes easily to mind.
Claimants often bring up minor health problems in response to this “kitchen sink” question,innocently thinking that this level of thoroughness is important. When claimant’s present non-disabling medical or mental conditions, ALJ’s can misinterpret the claimant’s testimony as a sign of exaggeration.
Claimants may also take the final chance to address the judge to make sure the ALJ understands that they are not lazy or entitled. Often times, however, statements made to that end can be misinterpreted, and in some cases have the opposite effect.
Statements like “I would rather be working” or “I have worked all my life” are understandable but in the experience of ALJs are often made by claimants that are fact not disabled. More troubling would be final statements such as “I can’t find a job”. Such a statement on its face is a clear indication of ability to work. In my 23 years of social security disability experience in Dallas Fort Worth I have on rare occasions ( and despite of my preparation session with the client) had well-qualified and clearly disabled clients made such a statement. In most cases, the ALJ have ben wise and fair enough to fquestion the claimant further and clarify that the claimant is not saying they are able to work.
The reality is that the Administrative Law Judge hearing can be a minefield where innocent and well-meaning statements can be misinterpreted. Social security disability claimants in Dalllas Fort Worth Texas and throughout the nation need experienced, local and personal representation to reach the goal of securing social security disability benefits.