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Preparing for an SSDI hearing - Part I

In our last post, we presented an overview of the appellate process that is available to Houston residents whose applications for Social Security Disability Insurance have been denied. This post will focus on a single aspect of the appellate procedure: testifying about the claim before an administrative law judge or ALJ.

While the testimony at the hearing will focus on the medical condition at issue, a claimant who plans to testify must master and follow two rules. First, always tell the truth. The ALJ will have reviewed the claimant's entire file and will have detailed knowledge about the claimant's medical condition and disability. Any deviation from the truth will be quickly spotted, and such deviations, regardless of how irrelevant they may appear to be, will almost always doom the claim.

As mentioned, the hearing will focus on the claimant's medical condition and the effect of that condition on the claimant's ability to work. The claimant should review all of the medical records with an eye toward the crucial issues. The ability to describe pain in an accurate and credible manner will be crucial to success. Again, in describing the medical condition, the claimant should not exaggerate.

The claimant may be asked questions by the ALJ. Those questions should be answered calmly and without distortion or exaggeration. Rehearsing the answers to certain questions may be helpful, but if answers appear to be canned their credibility will suffer. In describing medical symptoms, the claimant should not try to compete with the examinations made by examining or treating physicians. The claimant should use his or her everyday language to describe medical symptoms and their effect on the ability to work.

In our next post, we will go over some of the more detailed pointers about preparing for testimony on specific issues.

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