I am not an attorney, nor do I have any experience in the legal field at all. This post does NOT constitute legal advice. If you have any questions at all please consult an attorney. Before using any tips contained within this blog post series, I advise you to seek the opinion of an attorney. This post is from an email that a follower of The Fibro Frog sent me. She received it from an attorney's assistant. However, I do not have the name of the attorney, assistant, or the law firm. Therefore I can not give proper credit to them. I have to hand type this all out, or else it isn't large enough for people to read. I can't do that all in one shot, it's impossible with the pain and fatigue I have. Therefore there will be a series of posts made, until I get it all done.
Memorandum: Testifying At Your Disability Hearing
Unless your attorney asks you to be at the hearing office at a specific time, arrive for your hearing about a half an hour early. Any earlier is not necessary no matter what your Notice of Hearing may say about coming early to review your file. Your lawyer has already reviewed your hearing exhibit file. It isn't necessary for you to review it (although you may if you want to). Disibility hearings usually start on time - so whatever you do, don't be late.
Don't Talk About Your Case
When you come for your hearing, remember, Social Security hearings are serious business. Don't make jokes. Indeed, don't even talk about your case before or after your hearing in the waiting room, in the hallway, in the elevator or anywhere else where a stranger can overhear. A social security employee may misinterpret what you say and get the wrong impression about you. There may be a lot of social security employees in the building.
The Hearing Room
A social security hearing room is nothing more than a small conference room. It may have a few official trappings such as the seal of the Social Security Administration or an American flag. Hearing rooms are always equiped with a conference table. There also may be a small table for the judge's assistant. Usually there is a desk for the judge that sits on a small riser that is slightly above the level of the conference table where you will sit.
The Recording Equipment
Each hearing room will have it's own recording equipment, which will be used to record your hearing. Because your hearing will be recorded, it is important for you to speak clearly when you answer questions. The microphones are very sensitive to sound so they will pick up your testimony from anywhere in the room if you speak loud enough for the judge to hear you. However, shaking your head won't do; neither will pointing at a part of your body without stating out loud what part of your body you are pointing at. Also, "uh-huh" and "huh-uh" answers do not transcribe as well as "yes" and "no" answers. So try to say "yes" and "no" if you can.
Persons Present In The Hearing Room
You will be seated at the conference table along with your attorney. Under some circumstances the judge may call a vocational witness or doctor to testify. If so, they will be seated at the conference table, too. Also seated at the conference table (or perhaps at a small table next to the conference table) will be the judge's assistant who operates a computer, which is used to make a CD-ROM that will contain the recording of the hearing.
Social Security Hearing Are Informal
Social Security hearings are much less formal than court hearings. They were designed so that they would not be a threatening experience. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that if you can relax as much as possible, you will be the best witness for yourself. It's ok to let yourself be yourself. Although this is an informal hearing, you will testify under oath.
The Administrative Law Judge
The person who presides in a Social Security hearing is an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Although many judges do not wear judicial robes and you will not be expected to stand up when the judge comes into the room, the Social Security judge is entitled to the same respect that you would pay to a court judge. The judge's job is to issue an independent decision, which is not influenced by the fact that your case was denied at the time of your initial application and on reconsideration. In fact, more than half of judges' decisions nationwide are in favor of the claimant. These are the best odds at winning at any step in the entire Social Security appeals system. The informal Social Security hearing is not what we call an "adversarial" hearing. That is, there is no lawyer on the other side who is going to cross-examine you. Judges usually do not "cross-examine" a claimant. The judge is neither your adversary nor your opponent: the judge's job is to find out the facts. Many people, by the time they get to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, are angry at the Social Security system. Their application for benefits have been denied twice, often without any logical reason given for the denial. This system is cumbersome. It is time-consuming with all of it's appeals and delays, and it is frustrating. But, it's important not to take your anger out on the judge. The judge did not create this system. The judge is not responsible for the problems you have had with the system. Since the judge probably already knows all of the problems with the Social Securtiy appeals system, you do not need to explain all of these problems. It also isn't helpful to ask the judge any questions about your case. For example, don't ask, "Why have I been denied?" "Why has it taken so long for me to have a hearing?" and so forth. The only time you should ask a judge a question is when you do not understand what is being asked of you. Judges and lawyers sometimes ask simple questions in complicated ways. This is a shortcoming of the legal profession. Don't be intimidated by it. If you're not sure you understand a question, don't be embarrassed to ask politely for an explanation. The best way to treat the judge is with the courtesy and candor that you would show an old friend whom you haven't seen for several years - someone that you want to bring up-to-date about all of your problems. In other words, it's ok for you to talk to the judge "regular". You do not have to use highfalutin words, lawyer words, or doctor words. In fact, it's much better if you do not use such terminology; instead, talk to the judge the same way you would talk to an old friend.
This is it for Part I. My hands, wrist, and arms and done in for now! Look for Part II sometime tomorrow.