How to Get Disability Benefits in Pennsylvania
You waited what seems like a lifetime (approximately 1 ½ – 2 ½ years) for your day in Court and you have finally been scheduled for your Social Security Disability hearing. At this point, your chances of success are better than at either the initial application or reconsideration stage. However, you still want to ensure that you have the greatest chance of success in obtaining disability benefits in Pennsylvania. While each case is unique unto itself, the following is some general advice that may help you in preparation for this most important day.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Lawyer
You may believe that your case is as close to a “sure thing” as there is in the Disability universe. You’ve treated extensively with only the best specialists and you have a stellar work history. Don’t be fooled! While the Social Security Administration will allow you to proceed unrepresented, your chances of success with experience local counsel is much greater at every level, but especially at the hearing level. By the time of the hearing, counsel should have guided you regarding appropriate treatment and also should have obtained all your past medical records. Furthermore, he or she should provide you with appropriate expectations as to what will transpire at the hearing. By procuring local counsel, he or she should be able to advise you of your particular ALJ’s manner, likes and dislikes, etc. and give you a greater comfort level as to the type of hearing that particular ALJ conducts. It’s providing you a “home court” advantage. Furthermore, it should provide you with a greater level of confidence knowing that your disability lawyer has been successful on a number of occasions in front of the factfinder hearing your case.
Preparing for a Disability Hearing as the Claimant
Understanding how to best present yourself at the hearing can be the difference between success and failure. The underlying medical evidence will still drive your case and hopefully, you have been treated by all relevant doctors relating to your physical and mental conditions. However, credible, solid testimony is still vital. It’s still important that you provide descriptive answers with as many examples as possible. Try to provide specific instances where your conditions may have affected your daily lifestyle or routine. Have you been unable to lift a gallon of milk? Have there been times that you’ve missed family holiday dinners or religious services due to depression or anxiety? Have you been unable to watch your younger children or grandchildren due to pain or the effects of medication? All these are illustrative of framing an accurate picture for the factfinder. At the same time, it is important that you avoid exaggeration. Some Claimants mistakenly believe that magnification and exaggeration of their symptoms will provide them with a better chance of success. It is important to recognize that ALJ’s are experienced fact finders who will, in most cases, recognize when a Claimant is providing exaggerated symptomology. It is important to avoid absolutes when describing your symptoms, i.e. “always”, “never”, “constantly”, etc. No matter how strong the medical evidence, there is still a degree of subjectivity in every case. If you exaggerate or magnify, you may lose credibility with the ALJ which may affect his overall impression as to your honesty. While you do not want to minimize the effects of your symptoms, you should not over-exaggerate your problems.
Disability Hearings and Medical Records
As a patient, for years, you are asked to describe your condition in terms of diagnosis. When you are seen by a new treating source, they ask about your prior medical history at which time you may provide a description similar to that of a medical clinician. However, at the Social Security hearing, the Judge will already have copies of your medical records so you will be asked about your symptoms, not your conclusions as to the medical ideology of those symptoms. Rather, you are there to testify both as to your physical and mental well-being, your medical and work history and your prior and current symptomology.
Questions Asked at a Social Security Disability Hearing
There is no such thing as a “perfect case.” A Claimant may have provided inconsistent statements to different healthcare providers. They may have a gap in treatment history. Some Claimants have had a prior history of alcohol or substance abuse while others have had a previous history of incarceration. The best way of dealing with these types of issues is approaching them head-on. Be prepared to address these issues. Own up to these uncomfortable situations. Use your candid testimony to help create greater credibility. For example, if you’ve had a prior drug or alcohol issue, which prevents you from currently taking pain medication for your problem back, explain to the Judge the circumstances behind your failure to take medications. Try to turn a negative into a positive by explaining that you have learned from some of the difficulties of your past. It is important that you and your attorney discuss these issues prior the hearing so that you are not caught off guard. While you never want answers to appear rehearsed, preparing in advance can help you handle these situations properly.
Pennsylvania Disability Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
The process of filing for social security disability is nerve-racking at best. It is a long arduous process that can be, at times, contentious, adversarial, confusing and demeaning. However, while all ALJ’s have different courtroom demeanors and approval ratings, the great majority are fair and honorable people who want to reach a just result. While the process is a marathon, you are now in the homestretch. Hopefully, if you follow some of the aforementioned, you will reach the finish line and disability benefits will be granted.