Your Administrative Law Judge Hearing: Top Five Bad Answers to the Question “WHY CAN’T YOU WORK?”

In no particular order, here are the top five “case-killing” responses to the question that all Administrative Law Judge’s will ask: “Why can’t you work?”

1. “I can’t find a job. No one will hire me with my medical background”

The ALJ wants to know why you think you can’t work. Anyone hearing this answer will immediately assume that the problem is not the inability to work but rather the inability to find a job.  Social security disability benefits are for those unable to perform work, and is not intended to address the problems of securing work.  This is true even if the claimant feels that there medical condition is keeping them from getting a job.  For example, folks often say that there medical history is a problem for prospective employers, and often quote would-be employers as saying that hiring them is a risk to their Workers Compensation or medical insurance plan.  Implicit in this answer is a belief by the claimant that she can work, and that the problem is not being able to get a job. Social Security Disability benefits are intended to protect workers who cannot work due to a mental or physical condition. There are not intended to address the difficulties of finding a job.

2. “My long-term disability insurance company told me to file for social security disability”

This can be an easy mistake to make, because it is the true: most LTD carriers under an ERISA group benefit plan require those on claim to also file for social security disability.  This is because they are able to reclaim some benefits paid out of social security disability benefits.   But this is not an answer to the ALJ’s question.  She wants to know why you think you cannot work.  This answer leave the wrong impression.   Are you pursuing social security disability because you truly believe you are disabled and cannot work, or are you simply following the orders of an insurance company?  Most long-term disability carriers require those that are on claim for long-term disability benefits to file for social security disability, because the insurance company can reduce the monthly benefit they pay in the amount of the social security disability benefit. So it is true that most LTD recepients may file at the suggestion of their insurance company. But this answer makes you look like the insurance company is leading you around by the nose, motivated not by a belief that you are in fact disabled but rather simply going along with the insurance company.

3. “My unemployment insurance ran out”

This is a real case killer, because it makes you look like you are just working the system.

4. “I don’t have a car/way to get to work”

Social security disability benefit eligibility has nothing to do with whether you have reliable transportation, or even if your impairment keeps you from driving to work (a driving-related impairment has an impact on the ability to perform a driving jobs such as a truck driver).  Now, if you have an impairment that means you can’t drive you have to talk about how that impairment would keep you from working once you are at the job. How you get there is irrelevant.

5. “They eliminated my job/they outsourced it to Mexico,” etc.

Unfortunately, the issue is not whether your job is still available. It is always a problem when the last job ended due to layoff because this usually had nothing to do with your health and impairments.  All ALJ will want to carefully explore the specifics of a job that ended in a layoff.  For example, sometimes people who are not performing their job due to a disability are lad off rather than fired.  But if you say you are seeking disability benefits because the plant closed down you are essentially saying you are able to work.  The issue is whether you could perform the job, whether it is in fact in one particular job is not in existence.


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