Most people lose their original SSDI claim; in fact, 70% of claims are denied. That doesn’t mean your claim is over, just that you will will need to ask for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge so you can explain your case in person. Most claims can be won at this stage, but it is best to be as prepared as possible so that you don’t have to go even further into the appeals process and wait even longer.
Here are some tips so that you understand what happened and how best to go forward in the future:
Hire a Qualified Disability Advocate or Attorney You Are Comfortable With
While many people choose to represent themselves, you will benefit from having an experienced advocate by your side. While there are no rules against representing yourself, it is generally not in your best interest to go to court alone. Even experienced attorneys usually hire other attorneys to represent them in court if they are involved in personal litigation.
Preparing Your Case
The first thing we can help with is evaluating your case and helping you decide the best way to present it to the judge. The ALJ (Administrative Law Judge) hears many cases throughout the year, but your disability attorney will help you organize your presentation so that the judge understands the seriousness of your case. Make sure your attorney has copies of all your paperwork, including medical exams and work information.
Helping You Stay Calm
The first benefit of bringing an attorney with you is that you know that you are not alone. Most people are nervous when involved in courtroom proceedings, but you will feel better knowing that you are with someone who has been through this before many times and is on your side. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to remember everything important you wanted to tell the judge.
Your Physical Presentation
Your attorney can also help you with your physical presentation. Courts expect a certain amount of decorum, and your attorney can help you to understand what kind of clothing and demeanor will most impress the ALJ. While you are not going to be putting on a show, being appropriate goes a long way when presenting your case in court.
That doesn’t mean that you should go out and buy a nice suit like you think an attorney might wear to court, or that you have to feel as though you have to go overboard with how servile you act toward the judge. It is more important to be neat, clean, and respectful looking and to be civil and polite with the judge.
Know Your Case
Your lawyer can help you better if you know your case thoroughly and can help explain why it is necessary for you to have SSDI. Keep up with any changes and make sure your attorney gets new information. It is never good to have a surprised attorney in court, and it could potentially keep your attorney from representing you as fully. Knowing your full medical history is important, and there are free and reduced-price services that may be able to help you develop your record.
You don’t need to become a medical expert, but you should be able to show evidence about your injuries and your treatment over a period of time. Never forget that nobody knows as well as you do how your disability is affecting your day-to-day life and ability to work.
Never Minimize Your Disability
Many people have trouble letting go of their pride, and may not want to admit that there are some things they can’t do anymore. You probably have a picture in your head of the way you used to be, and all the things you used to be able to do. It can be really hard to admit that you aren’t the person you were before.
Get rid of those ideas, because the ALJ is not there to look down on you for your injury. Explain how your disability affects your specific abilities and how that makes it difficult if not impossible for you to continue to perform your job duties. You will not be judged as a person based on your ability to perform certain job functions.
Never Exaggerate Your Disability
Many people go the opposite way, and try to exaggerate the extent of their injuries. This is a sure way to anger a trier of fact, who has dealt with many cases like yours before and will probably immediately know if you are being dishonest. Once the ALJ finds out that someone is dishonest, that will become part of that person’s record and could affect the ability of that person to ever prevail in an SSDI case. This is the scenario we see on television, where someone in a personal injury lawsuit claims to be seriously injured and then a detective brings pictures of the person dancing the tango and skydiving.
While your experience in a disability hearing will not be that dramatic, you do need to remember to always be honest. Sometimes people exaggerate because they are worried that the judge won’t take them seriously otherwise. Don’t worry about the fact that there are people in the world who have worse injuries than you. The judge is only there that day to evaluate your case.
Use an Expert to Explain How Your Injuries Are Affecting You
Someone such as an occupational therapist can provide evidence as to how your disability keeps you from doing your particular job, and can also provide information on how your disability will keep you from transferring your skills so that you are able to do another job. This is important so you can show the Court why you didn’t just go get a different job when you became injured. An occupational therapist can show the judge why someone with your injury will no longer be able to do what is expected at your job.
Do Not Miss Your Hearing
Just like with other important appointments, it is crucial to be present and show up on time for your appointment. If you expect a potential time conflict, go ahead and move to continue your hearing in advance. If you simply miss your hearing without a very good reason, the ALJ is going to default you, and you will lose your case. You may not be able to move on from this point after you lose by default at this hearing.
Keep In Touch With Your Attorney
As soon as you have a disability attorney, make sure you keep in close contact. If your attorney calls you, call back as soon as possible. By the same token, make sure you advise your attorney every time you get new information that may apply to your case. There are many times where a client did not give the attorney information crucial to the case, and it resulted in losing the case. Don’t worry about bothering your attorney if you have crucial information to share. Your attorney chose to help clients with disability claims and wants you to call.
It can take up to 2 years from the start of your claim before you get a date in court. Waiting for a long time can be frustrating, especially when you can’t work and you have to figure out how to live without your regular income. Don’t let the ALJ see if you are feeling anxious about how much time has passed. Your initial hearing is your best chance at winning your claim, so you want to take full advantage of it when your day finally arrives.
At Joel Thrift Law, we understand how frustrating it is to deal with the SSDI process, especially when it seems as though it should be easier to get something you feel you have a right to. Especially if you worked for a long time before your injury, you may be wondering why the process is so difficult to get benefits to which you should be entitled.
Even though there are many similarities in cases, your case is still different from other cases in important ways. We at Joel Thrift Law will help so that when you go to court, the judge will see why your case is so important. If you or someone you love has a potential or active disability claim, contact us today.