There are a number of ways your Social Security disability hearing differs from the kinds of courtroom trials you may see on television. There will be no jury, no attorney arguing against your claim, and probably no arguments about the law. Unless you insist on it, there should also not be witness testimony during the hearing. Here are some tips to understand witness testimony at your Lowell social security disability hearing. Let me explain.
Your Social Security disability hearing focuses on whether the combination of physical and mental impairments you are suffering prevent you from working based on Social Security laws and regulations. This focus on your physical and mental health means that testimony from medical practitioners will probably be more important to the administrative law judge than the opinions of your family or members of the community who know you well and can talk about why you are a good person or need the financial help. This greater focus on medical opinions is why it will probably not be helpful to have your spouse, children, neighbor, pastor, social worker, or other witness testify at your hearing.
When making a decision about your Social Security disability claim, judges are supposed to evaluate written witness testimony and opinions by certain levels. The greatest importance usually goes to opinions by highly educated medical practitioners with advanced degrees like doctors and psychologists. Medium importance may be given to opinions from educated medical professionals with more modest degrees such as registered nurses, physician’s assistants, and some social workers. The lowest level of importance usually goes to opinions from people outside the medical profession. Opinions from people without medical training can be helpful to administrative law judges to understand how your physical or mental impairments affect you, but are not usually more important to the judge than those of dedicated medical professionals.
There are a number of strategic reasons why it may not be a good idea to have a witness testify during your Social Security disability hearing. The most significant factor is time. Administrative law hearings considering at your Social Security disability claim only last for an hour or so. Your Social Security disability attorney has only a limited amount of time to help the administrative law judge understand the extent of your mental or physical impairments. Your attorney makes his case through the testimony that you provide as well as the attorney’s work emphasizing the most helpful parts of your claim and minimizing harmful ones. By insisting on including witness testimony in your Social Security disability hearing, you take time away from your attorney’s ability to make an effective presentation to the administrative law judge during the hearing. Witness testimony may also distract the judge from the more important parts of your claim, divert your attorney from reviewing your file or working on your case, and may cause additional difficulties if the witness tells the judge harmful facts or opinions.
Getting a written opinion statement is one way you can provide witness testimony that will create fewer distractions to your attorney and the administrative law judge. By having a witness provide written testimony, you can make their opinions and statements part of the record without needing to worry about how the witness may respond to questions by the administrative law judge. Still, the time and attention your attorney and the administrative law judge spend reviewing these opinions may take away from their review of your claim. If you do want to provide witness testimony by written letters, there are a few things you should ask your witness to focus on when writing the letter:
- To be useful, the letter should focus on discussing how your mental or physical impairments affect your ability to take care of yourself, interact with other people, and perform basic daily activities. When witness testimony letters focus on how good you are or how much you need the money, an administrative law judge will usually place very little weight on these opinions since they do not tell him anything useful about your disabling impairments.
- You may want your Social Security disability attorney to quickly review the witness testimony letter before it is sent to the Social Security Administration. Your witness may write a letter that contains information that hurts your case.
- As a practical matter, you may encourage your witness to type their letter rather than writing it by hand. Handwriting may be seen as more personal and expressive means of making their point. However, the administrative law judge will regularly have a hard time reading their handwriting. This will require additional time that should be spent on your medical records.
It is perfectly normal to want someone else to help you with your Social Security disability hearing. These hearings are usually scary, so it is OK to be nervous or to want someone familiar around for support. You may also be tired, in a lot of pain, or have difficulty concentrating. Your family or friends may want to help out in any way possible and push themselves forward in what they feel is for your benefit. It is important to keep in mind that, while they do mean well, such witness testimony may not significantly help your Social Security disability claim and could be a distraction.
If you really want to have a witness give testimony during your hearing, let your Social Security disability attorney know about this as soon as possible before you start reaching out to your friends, family, or members of the community for witness testimony at your Lowell Social Security disability hearing.