Our office has been working with "Social Security Claimants" for over two decades. Most Social Security applicants don't understand what is involved in successfully presenting their case in front of an administrative law judge. First, it is important to understand that it is normally not enough to prove that you can't work at your last job. Instead you must prove that you have a "medically determinable disability" which prevents you from engaging in any "substantial gainful employment". The word "substantial" is important because you can earn a small amount of wages and still be eligible for disability benefits. The amount is set by the Social Security Administration and can change from time to time. If you are already engaging in substantial employment, then you are not eligible to obtain disability benefits.
Secondly, there are regulations which Social security attorneys refer to as "the Grid". The Social Security Administration recognizes different standards for claimants of different ages, levels of education and work backgrounds. Once the appropriate standards are determined, an attorney can determine whether the medical records are adequate to support the claim for disability. If not, an attorney may pose specific questions to a claimant's treating doctor(s).
Thirdly, it is important for an attorney to help his client quantify his complaints in a specific manner. A claimant may be asked, "How much can you lift". A bad answer would be "not very much". An answer like this doesn't help to describe the claimant's limitations. It should be noted that Social Security judges refer to something called "The Dictionary of Occupational Titles" for job information. This source describes the exertional requirements of all classified jobs which exist in the national economy. It is up to the claimant's attorney to prove that his client can't perform any substantial work for which he is qualified. In addition, "Social Security Judges" will often bring "vocational rehabilitation counselors" into a hearing in order to get clarifications as to the claimant's "work background", "work restrictions" and the requirements of various jobs. An attorney must be prepared to effectively challenge the vocational counselor's testimony through effective cross-examination.
Finally, Social Security Hearings are informal and usually take about an hour, although they can vary in length, depending on the judge's format and the complexity of the case. Your attorney will know the various judges at the "Downtown SSA Office" and the "Creve Coeur SSA Office". Be sure to dress appropriately, as it is important to create a favorable impression. In short, preparation is the key to winning your case, so talk to your attorney ask him what you can do to help your cause.
The contents of this article are intended for educational use only in order to provide readers general information and a basic understanding of the law. If you are seeking legal advice, please consult a licensed professional attorney in your state. The information in this article should not be substituted for experienced legal advice.
About the Author
Jeff Swaney founded the Swaney Law Firm in 1984. Jeff obtained his law degree from the School of Law at St. Louis University, as well as a Master of Arts in Public Administration. He is a member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) and The Missouri Bar Association. Jeff is also licensed and handles cases in the State of Illinois.