My clients often ask me: “What will I be asked about my disability hearing?” While every disability hearing will have its own issues specific to each case, there are four general areas that are covered at almost every disability hearing.
1. Your Past Work Is a Factor in Your Disability Hearing
The Judge will likely ask about the jobs you used to do in the past 15 years. You won’t be required to memorize dates—the ALJ will have your earnings record on his or her computer. You will be expected to explain the physical and mental requirements of each job that you held. For example, how much you were required to lift, stand on your feet, walk, as well as any other physical requirements of each job will be relevant to this testimony. The Judge may ask whether or not advanced training was required, whether or not you worked around co-workers or the general public, and how long the training period lasted. The Judge will also ask what physical and mental difficulties, if any, you had at each position. Part of the Judge’s task is determining whether or not you can still do any of the work you’ve done in the last 15 years. For that reason, a good description of past work is required.
2. The Hearing Is Your Chance to Describe Your Conditions
This is the main reason you’re at the hearing—to describe your conditions and how they affect you. You will have an opportunity to describe all your conditions, both physical and mental, and what limitations each presents. The Judge will be interested in specific estimates of your abilities. For example, if you have a condition that affects your ability to walk, the Judge may ask you to estimate how far you can walk at one time before needing to stop. In most hearings, you may be asked to estimate how far you can walk, how long you can stand, how long you can sit, and how much you can lift. You may also be asked if you have any limitation with other specific abilities, such as the ability to climb stairs, work with your hands, or raise your arms above your head. With regard to mental health conditions, you may be asked if you have difficulty with simple instructions, working around people and the general public, or accepting criticism from supervisors. The Judge will consider all your allegations in determining your residual functional capacity—what you are still able to do despite your conditions.
3. Your Daily Life
This is the category that sometimes takes people off guard. The Judge will ask about your day to day life. Some Judges will ask you to describe a typical day from start to finish. Some Judges will ask about specific activities of daily living, such as the ability to prepare a meal, perform chores in the house and yard, drive to appointments, perform personal hygiene tasks, and go grocery shopping. You will have the opportunity to explain if you require assistance for the completion of these activities. Here, the Judge is seeking an overall understanding of how your conditions affect your daily life.
4. Drugs, Alcohol, and Compliance with Treatment
If you have any history of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or non-compliance with medical treatment, it is very likely the Judge already knows about it through the examination of your medical records. As you will be sworn by oath to tell the truth under penalty of perjury during your testimony, you should be prepared to discuss these issues openly and honestly. While this is not an exhaustive list of all issues that will be discussed at your disability hearing, these are the main four areas of inquiry based on my experience representing clients hundreds of disability hearings over the past 5 years.