I have a few suggestions if you are running around looking for help in your disability case.
First, get a qualified attorney. Disability law is extremely complex and the system is not always fair. The typical disability case is worth more than $250,000. Do you want to throw that money away? I think not.
If you have an attorney, but you have not seen or spoken to that attorney until the day of the hearing, be very worried. Take the time to ask that attorney what he or she knows about your case, and aks what the attorney what his or her theory of the case is. What is the onset date of disability, why? What is the date that your insurance at SSA ran out? How does that matter? Make sure the attorney knows all about you, your impairments, and your limitations. Did the attorney get an opinion from your treating doctor? Why not? Before going into the hearing, ensure that the medical records are up to date. If you are not satisfied with your attorney, explain to the ALJ that you never saw the attorney before the day of the hearing, that you are concerned, and that you want an extension of time to find a qualified attorney.
"Ya but" the hearing is tomorrow and I can't wait to find an attorney because I'll be evicted!
You might not be thinking this through if you are thinking about dashing off to a hearing without competent counsel. Rushing to a hearing now that might lose, will be less effective in resolving your misery than having a hearing later, that you have a better chance of winning.
If the hearing is imminent, you may wish to appear at the hearing and request a postponement for the purpose of obtaining representation.
HALLEX I-2-6-52 (A) requires the ALJ to grant one postponement to obtain representation. Failure to grant such a request is rare. Good cause must be shown for a second such request, and to my knowledge it is not likely to be granted. If you ask for more time to find representation, use that time well.
That said, if you must run into a hearing on your own, here are a few suggestions. The following suggestions assume you are a person born in 1985, or so. The rules are different for children, folks aged 45 or order who are illiterate in English, or for some folks over age 49.
Keep in mind this is a very complex area of law, and without a qualified attorney you are essentially clueless about the correct legal standards for your case. This is somewhat like showing up at the shootout at the OK Corral armed with a pocket knife:
- Get to the hearing at least an hour early and read the entire hearing record.
- Make a list of all of the therapist, doctor, clinic, and hospital visits that are not up-to-date in the hearing record.
- Ask the judge to update the record, and tell the judge exactly where to get the desired records.
- Tell the truth about everything. If you are not sure, can't tell, don't know, don't make up an answer. Say you are not sure and leave it at that.
- Don't let the judge put words in your mouth, tell the truth, and don't be coerced.
- Make a list of all of your impairments and limitations. Tell the judge the truth about all of your limitations and explain to the judge exactly why your medically-determined limitations (in combination) keep you from performing the simplest full-time job you can imagine, such as a ticket taker at a parking lot, or the job of a pimply-faced teenager at McDonald's who takes orders and makes change at the drive-up window.
- Explain to the judge exactly why your medically-determinable impairments and their limitations (in combination) prevent you from performing any of the jobs you have done in the last fifteen-years on a regular full-time basis.
- Keep in mind the fact that your local labor market stinks will not help your case. That nobody will hire you is not an element you are trying to prove.
- Take your meds with you and explain honestly all of the side effects, if any. Keep in mind that if your regular treatment reduces your symptoms, you should be sure to explain why it is you cannot work when your medication and treatment are working.
- Explain honestly the reasons you have missed any medication or treatment, i.e. no money, no medical insurance.
- Explain to the judge honestly all of the limitations your impairments have created in your ability to take care of yourself.
- Look carefully at what you already wrote to the Social Security Administration and if anything needs explanation, honestly explain it.
- Dress like you are going to see somebody important. You are.
This is an extremely simplified list, and it should never, ever, be relied upon as a substitute for qualified counsel. I could increase this list ad infinitum.
David F. Traver