Are you applying for Social Security Disability benefits and waiting for a disability hearing? If so, you’ll want to prepare in advance for any disability judge trick questions. If you’re working with a good disability lawyer, they can adequately prepare you for your hearing. But unrepresented claimants need to prepare independently and may not know where to start.
The good news? The disability lawyers at Collins Price, PLLC have put their decades of experience to work for you in this blog post. Below, you’ll find their best tips for handling tricky questions from disability judges during your hearing.
What to Expect From a Disability Judge
Disability law judges are professionally referred to as Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). Claimants are assigned an ALJ when they receive their hearing date. They meet the ALJ the day of the hearing and have the option of an in-person hearing or a telephone or video hearing.
ALJs review a claimant’s full electronic file in advance of the SSDI hearing. This file contains medical evidence relevant to the claim, any associated briefs or arguments from the claimant’s disability lawyer (if they have one), the claimant’s work history and wage reports, and much more.
During the hearing, you can expect the disability judge to examine (question) you about your work history, current medical impairments, and how those impairments impact your daily life. They may also ask a vocational expert to weigh in on your claim. The vocational expert won’t question claimants directly. Instead, the ALJ questions the vocational expert, who provides hypothetical context and guidance as to how your impairments may prevent you from working.
Disability Judge Trick Questions
Disability judges act as a safeguard to ensure Social Security disability resources are reserved for those who need them most. When they question claimants, they’re not trying to “trick” a claimant – they’re simply trying to make a determination as to your medical impairments. Often claimants provide testimony during a hearing that conflicts with the medical evidence on file or with their previous record of impairments.
In these scenarios, an ALJ may seek to clarify any conflicting information or close any gaps of evidence in your claim for benefits. They often do this by asking you repetitive or pointed questions.
Three Common Disability Judge Trick Questions
For over a decade, we’ve represented claimants at thousands of hearings. Below, we’ve listed the three most common trick questions we hear at hearings:
Question #1: It looks like you live alone – how do you get food and supplies?
Why This is Tricky: The Judge know everyone must have access to food and basic supplies. If you’ve previously stated that you cannot drive, stand, leave your house, or otherwise perform any basic tasks, the ALJ will want to understand how you access essentials.
How You Should Answer: Don’t be casual with your response. Instead, be as detailed as possible. For example, if you have a friend or neighbor who takes you to the grocery store weekly, speak to that. If you order your groceries online and use a cart to take them in, make sure the ALJ knows. If you can go to the grocery store in a pinch but it takes you all day to complete the task, then tell the ALJ about the difficulty of the trip.
Question #2: You live with an elderly loved one/You have children? How do you care for them?
Why This is Tricky: The ALJ typically asks questions like this when there is a clear conflict between a claimant’s actual living situation, their medical evidence, and their testimony. For example, if a claimant is the sole caregiver for an immobile elderly parent but testifies that they cannot lift more than three pounds, an ALJ will ask the clamant to clarify how they are able to assist their loved one with bathing or getting around the house.
How You Should Answer: Be truthful and straightforward. You should describe how you care for your loved one – we all do the best we can for those we love. But do make sure to detail any help you receive, no matter how small. Additionally, point out accommodations you make due to your impairments. For example, “I take frequent breaks when helping mom sit up in bed and use a sheet to move her.”
Question #3: Your past work is physically demanding. Clearly you can’t do that anymore, but if someone paid you the same amount to do a sit-down job, you could do that right?
Why This is Tricky: If an ALJ asks you this it’s typically because they think your impairments aren’t severe enough to meet Social Security’s definition of disability. They may believe that while you can’t perform your previous work, your impairments may allow you to work in some capacity and earn wages above the monthly allowable limit for SSDI. It is common for ALJ’s to ask the vocational expert for additional context in these situations.
How You Should Answer: If you aren’t represented by a disability lawyer at your hearing, it’s possible that you don’t have a clear understanding of Social Security’s definition of disability. The standard for disability is not that you cannot perform your existing job but that you cannot perform work OF ANY KIND that results in earnings above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) limit.
If the ALJ asks you this question and you think you can perform work that is less physically demanding, be truthful when responding. However, if you think the ALJ and vocational expert are missing critical information about your impairments or you have a history of unsuccessful attempts to work less demanding jobs, now’s the time to speak to that.
One other important note to remember is that the ALJ and vocational expert will not evaluate whether there are jobs immediately available to you when reviewing your claim. For example, they may find that you can perform light sedentary work, like acting as a customer service specialist in a call center. You may respond by saying, but there aren’t any call centers near me! While that may be true, it’s sadly not relevant to your claim.
That’s becuase Social Security Disability benefits are reserved for people with severe medical impairments who have been or expect to be out of work for 12 months or longer. If an ALJ finds you can perform less demanding work, they will probably deny your claim. However, the program does have more relaxed qualifications for older claimants who may find it difficult to adjust to other work.
Claimants who work with disability lawyers are more successful on average than those who don’t. That’s why we recommend claimants looking for disability lawyers in Charlotte, NC contact our office for a free, no obligation consultation.
For those who choose to navigate the process alone, we encourage you to do as much research as possible beforehand and to keep a cool head during your hearing. The most important thing to remember is to be truthful and straightforward with the ALJ. But don’t shortchange your impairments or minimize your difficulties. Your testimony will be critical in helping the ALJ make a determination on your claim.