Your Social Security Disability Hearing – How to Prepare and What to Expect

A Social Security disability hearing is not quite as formal as a regular court appearance. However, the presiding Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may still wear the traditional judicial robe and, depending on the location of the hearing, may sit on an elevated platform, known as “the bench.” Despite the fact that the proceedings tend to be less formal than a court trial, certain rules still apply. Understanding what is to come will assist you in preparing for your hearing.

What to Wear

You don’t have to wear a suit if you normally don’t do so. However, you should still take a moment to put some thought into how you will present yourself. Skirts should come at least to the knee. Cleavage has no place in at a disability hearing. Similarly, shorts are not appropriate. Nor are t-shirts with slogans or catchy phrases appropriate at a Social Security disability hearing. You should dress modestly, in clothes that are clean and pressed.

How to Avoid Being Late

It is absolutely critical that you be on time for your disability hearing. ALJs sometimes schedule hearings back to back. If you show up 30 minutes late, for example, the Judge may already be hearing the next case and may refuse to hear your case. You may be given the option to reschedule your hearing – but then again you may not. 

The best way to ensure that you are on time for the hearing is to do a “practice run.” Prior to your hearing, make your way to the location the hearing is scheduled to take place. Do this at around the same time you plan on leaving on the day of the hearing. This will give you a good idea of traffic patterns, bus or subway schedules, and other factors that could contribute to the amount of time it will take you to get from your front door to the hearing location. Do not forget to allocate time for parking, if you are driving, or unexpected delays, such as unusual traffic. Identify two separate parking options, so that if the garage you identified is full, you will know of another option and can get yourself there quickly.

What to Expect During the Disability Hearing

You can expect a court reporter to be present taking down every word that is said. Because there is a court reporter, it is critical that you respond verbally to questions. In other words, do not nod or shake your head. Also avoid responding with “Uh-huh.” 

There may be experts at your hearing, such as medical or vocational experts. You are also entitled to bring witnesses to testify on your behalf. The purpose of these fact witnesses, called lay witnesses, is to testify about your limitations. You can expect to be questioned by the judge, as well.

When You Are Testifying

Before you testify at your disability hearing, you will be placed under oath. It is critical that you understand that this means you are subject to both criminal and civil penalties if you commit perjury by lying under oath. The two most common errors people make are exaggerating their limitations or understating their limitations. 

Preparing for Your Testimony

Since you will be placed under oath, and because you know that you will be asked about your limitations, take a few moments to review your current physical, emotional, and/or mental state, depending on the condition for which you are claiming is disabling. This is where a disability diary can be critical. 

If you have been documenting your disability on a daily or weekly basis, take a moment to review the documentation, to remind yourself of all the ways you have been limited because of your disability. You should identify and be prepared to describe specific examples of your limitations. Testimony such as “I can’t do anything” is neither helpful nor, frankly, accurate. The Judge will note that you made it to the disability hearing, so you can obviously do “something.” 

Rather, “My arm muscles have atrophied to the point I can’t lift my arms above my head. This means I am unable to wash my own hair. I can’t reach into the cupboards to get a coffee mug. Additionally, because of the weakness in my muscles, I can’t lift my grandchild into my lap. I can’t carry more than five pounds.” 

Particularly if you have a condition where your symptoms or limitations vary from day to day, you want to identify concrete examples of your limitations on your worst days, your days that are neither good nor bad, and on your best days.   

Similarly, you may ask your lay witnesses, if you have any, to prepare a descriptive narrative of what they have observed about your current and past lifestyle and limitations. 

Answer the Question That Was Asked

If you are asked questions by the Judge, it is critical that you listen to the complete question and then respond to only that question. There is no need, for example, for you to recount your medical procedures if the Judge doesn’t ask about them  Your attorney will have already provided that information to the Judge.  You can expect that the Judge has read your file and is already aware of your medical procedures. Your testimony, and that of your lay witnesses, is designed to provide first-hand information about your daily life and how your condition affects and restricts your life.

Understand Your Attorney’s Role

Your attorney is there to represent your best interests. Your attorney also knows the legal standard in Social Security disability cases. If your attorney believes there is critical information about your case that has not been brought out during questioning by the Judge, your attorney may opt to ask you questions so that you may provide that information to the court. 

It is not uncommon, however, for your attorney to not ask any questions. This does not mean he or she is not advocating for you. Nothing further may be needed to put on the record since:

  • the legal standard is clear;
  • you already submitted pertinent information regarding your disabling condition;
  • you have provided testimony regarding how your condition affects you and limits your abilities at work and in your daily life; and,
  • expert and lay witness testimonies have also been provided.

For More Information About How to Prepare for a Disability Hearing, Contact Us Today

A qualified attorney will explain in more detail how you should prepare for your Social Security disability hearing and what you can anticipate to occur during it. For more information, contact Liebenhaut Law today.

Avoid Social Security Disability Scams and Identity Theft!

Florida residents are the #1 targets for a serious organized crime; identity theft critically affects nearly 15 million people each year in the U.S. alone. Scammers and phishers are dishonest but they are not shy! They will call, email, or text you—often sounding very professional—and will construct creative ways to obtain your personal information. Between dumpster diving and stealing mail, one of the ways these cowardly criminals will assume the identity of their victims is by misleading the victim to believe they are somebody else, often over the phone. They are fakes, making a living off YOUR livelihood.

While their targets range from children to our elderly, our only weapon against these milksops is our good judgment. If you are applying for any form of benefits make sure to protect yourself from Social Security Disability Scams. If you have any questions, call your local social security office or a social security lawyer in Tallahassee.

DO NOT GIVE YOUR MONEY TO A STRANGER!

As Tallahassee disability attorneys, this particular kind of threat upsets us because it is the people we strive so hard to help that are so often affected by these dishonest masquerades and fraudulent claims. Hard-workers and those who unfortunately find it too difficult to find enough support anymore are taken advantage of. It pains me to see how insensitive a human can be to fellow person. In an effort to look out for those we represent—we provide you with 3 easy-to-live by tips and precautions to fend off these criminals out to steal your money and your identity:

  1. You DO NOT have to give any personal information to anyone over the phone!

If the person asking for your personal information—such as Social Security number or banking information—is from an honest source, then you should never feel as though you are being pressured or will face serious consequences if you fail to give out your own personal information.  Call your local field office or a Tallahassee social security lawyer if you have questions.

  1. You should NEVER give your personal information via E-mail or through text!

It is highly unlikely that anyone official will seek to obtain such important information via E-mail or especially text. If you do not absolutely recognize the source of any E-mail or text requesting your personal information delete that message!

  1. While you can have an appointed representative payee handle your monthly benefits, those who do not should ALWAYS regularly check your monthly statements and keep track of ALL review statements in a folder, or old box.  Lastly, find a good, comfortable wallet. An unorganized wallet may be hard to sit on at times, but any organized wallet containing your I.D.(s) and credit card(s) SHOULD snugly fit inside any pants’ pockets or purse. Always know where your wallet or purse is!

If you plan on having or being an appointed payee representative – someone who is found to be responsible and trustworthy by the Social Security Administration to manage your received benefits; it is so important that the payee is more than familiar with the beneficiary’s conditions and limitations.

If you ever have any serious concerns regarding these matters and can’t get an answer from Social Security, call to get feedback from one of our Tallahassee social security attorneys.

By obtaining YOUR personal information such as birthdays, banking information, and—most importantly—your Social Security number, these scammers will make purchases using your credit card numbers and expect you to pay for it. My team and I are prepared to answer any & all of your questions during your (or a loved one’s) battle for benefits.

 

Can my kids get social security benefits if I am disabled?

The answer is often “Yes.”  Your kids get social security benefits if your are disabled. Over the past 60 years, Social Security has provided critical benefits to the families of those whom have paid their debt to its tax-based trust fund. Besides retirement, Social Security has proven helpful to so many people that have been found unable to work due to limiting conditions. These disability benefits are provided through Social Security’s Social Security Disability Insurance program. To find one of the most experienced Tallahassee disability lawyers, call Liebenhaut Law today.

Family Benefits

Approved SSDI claimants are not only rewarded SSDI benefits and Medicare, their families can receive additional benefits as well.  Monthly checks of up to half the disabled worker’s rate may be paid to the following members of a beneficiary’s family:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Disabled Children 18-19 years old as full-time students in no higher than the 12th Grade
  • Adult Children Disabled before the age of 22.
  • Spouses (in certain situations)

Generally, a dependent child of a beneficiary will stop receiving benefits after 18 years of age. For an adult to receive benefits as a dependent of a beneficiary, he or she must meet the definition of disability prior to becoming 22 years old. The adult child also must earn no more than $1,130 per month.  Our Tallahassee social security lawyers have helped many parents win disability benefits and then assisted their disabled adult children prove disability prior to age 22.

A spouse may receive benefits if he or she is caring for a beneficiary’s child under age of 16 and is receiving Social Security benefits. Also, a spouse may qualify to receive benefits based on a beneficiary’s record if he or she is older than 62 and collects a lower Social Security benefit based on their earnings record.

A divorced spouse may qualify to receive benefits based on a beneficiary’s earnings record if he or she is unmarried at or above 62 years of age, and was married to the beneficiary for at least 10 years. He or she must also not be eligible to receive an equal or higher rate based on their record. A divorced spouse may be eligible to receive benefits on your behalf, even if you remarry.

Contact Us

 If you would like to ask how your spouse or other dependents could receive benefits on your behalf, speak to the Tallahassee Social Security lawyers at Liebenhaut Law. Call (850) 270-6977 to learn more about disability benefits and how they can improve your family’s income. Our Tallahassee-based Social Security disability law firm is open Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm.  Call us now or or complete a free online consultation to talk to an experienced Tallahassee Social Security disability attorney within 24 hours.

 

 

Should I appeal my Social Security award’s onset date?

appeal my Social Security3 IMPORTANT QUESTIONS IF SOCIAL SECURITY AWARDED DISABILITY BENEFITS WITH A LATER ONSET DATE

1. Should I appeal my Social Security award’s onset date? If the difference between your alleged onset date and your established onset date is minimal, it probably does not make sense to risk appealing the decision.  Your favorable decision can be overturned so an appeal is not always a no-risk proposition.

 

2. Did you work prior to your established onset date?  Many people assume their onset date should match the date they became sick.  But if you were engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA).  SGA means if you’re earning over approx. $1100 per month, you will not be deemed disabled no matter how bad your condition.  However, this limitation on SGA only applies to “earned” income.  It does not apply to sick leave or other receipt of money, which may show up on your tax records, but is not actually earned.  It is important to talk to a disability lawyer if you have been denied for SGA purposes and you’re unsure of the accuracy of the denial.

 

3. Do you have medical evidence from prior to the established onset date? It is very difficult to win a Social Security Disability claim in Tallahassee or anywhere in the U.S. without medical records from the date you’re alleging disability.  Without medical records to prove an earlier onset date, it may be better to accept a partially favorable decision.  However, before assuming no evidence exists prior to the established onset date, it probably makes sense to discuss the matter with a disability lawyer.

 

People often visit us at our Tallahassee disability law firm with questions about how much their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit would be.  Or how much backpay they would be entitled to for the time between their disability and the time their claim is approved.

“What is the onset date?” is a question that Social Security will ask you whether you apply yourself or with the assistance of a disability lawyer in Tallahassee or elsewhere.  But SSA may not agree with your answer as to when your disability began.  The established onset date differs from the alleged onset date. As the name suggests, the alleged onset date is the date estimated by the applicant on his or her application claiming when he or she could no longer work due to limitation. This date can be reset by the Disability Determination Services who is contracted by SSA to review disability claims.  Alleged onset dates are considered by Disability Determination Services (DDS), but it is a claimant’s medical records and work history reports that are weighed most heavily when determining the established onset date. This established onset date is the date the disabled individual was found unable to work.

It is common for DDS to set the established onset date at a much different time than the date alleged by the applicant. This can unfortunately cut a portion of a winning claimant’s earned benefits.  Our Tallahassee Social Security disability lawyers work with each of their clients to provide the best chance of winning a case at the alleged onset date.  If you are granted an established onset date much later than your alleged onset date, it generally means less monthly benefits as well as a lower lump sum (backpay) award described below.

As a beneficiary, you will receive an additional lump sum of money – this additional lump sum is referred to as back payments – along with your monthly check. Retroactive payments are the past due benefits from your established onset date to the time you are approved to receive benefits. However, regardless of your established onset date, you cannot receive benefits from prior to your application (for SSI benefits) or one year prior to your application (for SSDI benefits).  If you disagree with the established onset date set by Social Security, speak with our experienced Tallahassee disability attorneys to determine whether you should appeal  your established onset date.

 

 

 

Working on Social Security Disability: How much is Allowed?

Social Security Disability gives disabled workers a chance to attempt re-entrance into the work force while still receiving monthly benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, program. This opportunity is provided through a few different programs. The most commonly utilized of these programs is the Trial Work Period– available to beneficiaries, or winning applicant of SSDI.  Read below and if you still have questions, call for a consultation with one of our Tallahassee disability attorneys to find out what work would be available if you qualify to receive monthly disability benefits.

The Trial Work Period allows the beneficiary to receive benefits while participating in work that does not exceed gross earnings of $810/month. The working recipient can work nine months within five years exceeding this amount before the trial work period ends. After five years have passed since any trial work month, that particular month will no longer count as one of the nine allotted trial work months. Trial work months do not have to be consecutive; this means depending on the spacing of your trial work months, it is in fact possible to participate in more than nine trial months.

For example:

David, out of work due to a severe non-work related back injury, applied and was approved to receive benefits from Social Security’s SSDI program. He was approved in January 2010 and began his trial work period in January 2011. After a brief stint in the workforce, David was laid off in late March 2011 due to his particular limitations. Still receiving his monthly benefits, David made a second attempt to work in early December 2015. He worked a consecutive seven months before being laid off again in June 2016. Even though his total number of trial work months equals ten months, he is still eligible to receive monthly benefits with five trial work months remaining. This is because the five-year counting period will have rolled over and passed since his first three trial work months in early 2011.

Extended Period of Eligibility

If David is not laid off in June 2016 and continues to work for the next five consecutive months, he will reach the end of his nine-month work trial period and will enter Extended Period of Eligibility, EPE for short. An EPE lasts 36 consecutive months after the trial work period ends. A beneficiary’s eligibility to receive benefits will be determined on a monthly basis for this time. A beneficiary may be eligible to receive benefits as long as he or she is not earning more than the SGA amount of $1,130 per month.

The only time an applicant earning more than the SGA amount is eligible to receive full benefits while working over the SGA amount is during the grace period. The first month a beneficiary is found to be working above the SGA amount starts the three consecutive-months period at which a beneficiary can work above the SGA limit and still receive the full monthly benefit. Benefits can cease if the beneficiary’s countable gross income exceeds SGA after the grace period.

If you have stopped receiving benefits due to work activity and your gross countable income drops below the SGA limit, you can file an application for expedited reinstatement on your own or with the help of a Tallahassee disability lawyer.

If you receive Supplemental Security Income, there are other incentives to returning to work.  As most Tallahassee disability attorneys can explain, the SSI work incentive is not as generous as that of SSDI, but it is still helpful.  In general, an SSI beneficiary’s benefits are reduced only one dollar for every two dollars earned.   Call our office for a consultation with one of our social security lawyers to determine how the Social Security work incentives might affect you.