Only about 1 in 4 Oklahomans who apply for Social Security disability benefits will qualify the first time they apply. That means that the rest have to appeal their claims and testify in a hearing before an administrative law judge.For many, testifying in a front of a judge is a stressful and nerve-racking experience, especially when financial security is on the line. One of the best ways to prepare for a Social Security disability hearing is to hire an experienced attorney who specializes in disability claims.
Jason Michael Hicks, a Social Security disability lawyer at Laird Hammons Laird, offered this advice for testifying in a disability hearing.
1. Be prepared to wait.
Applying for disability benefits is a lengthy process. On average, it can take up to 14 months to be approved for benefits. This can have serious financial and emotional consequences, so make sure that you and your family are prepared to wait.
2. Do not collect unemployment.
Disability is often a financial burden, but unemployment benefits conflict with the qualifications for disability benefits. Collecting unemployment signifies that an individual is capable of work but unable to find a job. Whereas, disability benefits are only granted to those who are unable to work because of illness or disability.
3. Quit your job or adjust your hours.
To qualify for disability, as of 2016, your monthly income must not exceed $1,130. Anything higher is considered “substantial gainful activity” and will automatically disqualify you from receiving disability benefits. There are some exceptions for self-employed individuals and small business owners.
4. Be prepared to not meet a specific medical listing category.
The Social Security Blue Book contains a list of qualifying impairments for disability benefits. “Most people aren’t going to fall into a medical listing category,” Hicks said. “It’s more important to focus on what you can or can’t do, rather than what disability you have.”
5. For mental illness cases, compile comprehensive medical proof.
Unfortunately, there are not definitive tests to prove mental illness in a courtroom. “Those diseases which can’t be seen, like mental illness, are the ones judges are most skeptical of,” Hicks said. “They’re the most subjective. In mental illness, it’s really important more than anywhere else to have a consistent, well-developed medical history.”
6. Provide a 15-year work history.
Disability is awarded based on whether your illness keeps you from being able to work. A comprehensive work history covering experience and job responsibilities from the past 15 years in detail will illustrate how your disability negatively impacted your ability to perform tasks.
7. Provide any new medical evidence.
“A documented medical history is probably the single most important thing a claimant can prepare prior to the hearing,” Hicks said. Most judges appreciate time to review new evidence, so try to submit any new medical evidence in advance.
8. Submit a brief.
A brief is a short document that illustrates why you should win your case and outlines any new medical evidence to support your claim. Make sure that your case brief is submitted to your designated judge at least 10 days before your hearing.
9. Prepare to answer questions about your case.
Many people are nervous to speak about their disability in front of a judge. Having a skilled lawyer that specializes in disability appeals can help you to prepare for your hearing and ensure it goes smoothly. Hicks meets with his clients a few days before their hearing to review the hearing process and prepare his clients to testify confidently.
10. Arrange to have one or two witnesses present.
Ask someone close to you to testify about how your disability affects your ability to perform tasks either at home or at work. If you choose more than one witness, try to find witnesses that can offer varied knowledge about how your disability affects your life, such as a co-worker and a close personal friend.
Hiring a lawyer who understands disability cases will help you to prepare for your hearing. To speak with an experienced attorney who specializes in disability claims, contact us today.