At your disability hearing, you will be asked questions. Sometimes the questions are asked by your judge and sometimes the judge will have your attorney ask questions. Generally speaking, the questions are the same no matter who asks them. The goal of these questions is to help the judge navigate through the 5-step decision making process and to allow the judge to get a feel for what you are or are not capable of doing in a typical 8-hour day.
General Background Questions Asked at a Disability Hearing
- What is your name and Social Security Number?
- What is your address and your phone number?
- What is your age and date of birth?
- What is your height and weight?
- Are you right or left-handed?
- What is your marital status?
- What is your spouse’s name? Is (s)he employed? If so, what does (s)he do?
- Do you have children? What are their ages? Do they participate in any after school activities?
- What type of home do you live in? How many stories? What floor is the bedroom on? What floor is the laundry on?
- What sources of income have you received since you became disabled? (Unemployment, Workman’s Comp, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Other?)
- How did you get to the hearing today?
- What is the last grade you completed in school? If no high school diploma, did you get a GED?
- Since your last grade of school, did you complete any vocational or specialized courses? If so, in what?
- Have you ever served in the military?
- Which branch, what years, what type of discharge and what job did you have?
- Are you able to read and write?
- Can you perform simple math?
- You will be asked about every job you’ve done for more than 2-3 months over the last 15 years. Usually, the judge will start with the most recent job. Your judge will have access to an earning report and can help you remember dates and names of employers.
- What was your job title?
- What were your job duties?
- Did you supervise anyone?
- What was the heaviest thing you had to lift?
- Was this job generally done while seated or while standing?
- Why did that job end?
- Did you miss work in the last two years you worked full time?
- How many days per month on average?
- Could you tell me what is keeping you from working?
- Often, the judge will then talk about each of your ailments individually. I have clients list them starting with their head and working their way down the body to their feet. Then I will talk about each ailment individually. For instance:
- Back questions – Do you have pain, please rate it on a scale from 1-10. Are there things you do that make the pain worse? Are there things you do that make the pain better? What kind of treatment are you receiving, including medication? Does it help? Do your doctors have a future plan? Have you had surgeries? Do you need assistive devices?
- Depression questions – What symptoms were you having that led to your diagnosis of depression? Do you have crying spells, isolation, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts or attempts of suicide? How is your concentration? Do you get along with others? Do you have good days and bad days? Describe a good day. Describe a bad day.
Functional Limitations Questions
- How long can you sit, stand and walk at one time, without interruption?
- How much weight in pounds can you lift at one time?
- Can you bend at your waist?
- Can you push and pull a vacuum cleaner?
- Are you able to shower, wash your hair, shave and dress without help?
- Can you button buttons and zip zippers?
- How many stairs are you able to climb?
- Do you use public transportation?
- Do you have a valid driver’s license?
- Do you drive? How often, how far?
- What household chores do you do?
- Do you attend church?
- Do you go to your child’s after school functions?
- How often do you eat out or visit friends or family?
- Do you have a computer? How much time a day do you spend on it?
- How much television do you watch a day?
- What are your current hobbies?
- What hobbies did you use to enjoy, but can no longer do?
- Describe a typical day?
- Do you drink, smoke, use marijuana or use other non-prescribed drugs? If yes, how often, how much?
- What keeps you from doing your prior jobs?
- Could you be a ticket taker at a movie theatre 8 hours a day, 5 days a week? You can sit or stand and change positions at will, but must remain in one general area, the heaviest thing you have to lift is a ticket and you need to know theatre 7 is on the left and 8 is on the right? If no, why not?
- Is there anything I did not ask you that you wish I would have. Anything you had planned on telling the judge today that you were not able to?
Disability Judge Trick Questions
A judge is very rarely going to ask a ‘trick question’. As you see above; however, the judge does ask a lot of questions, which means there are a lot of areas where people can and do get caught up.
Some common examples:
- Early in the hearing, the claimant says the laundry is in the basement or the bedroom is upstairs, then will say they cannot climb stairs, and finally testifies that they do laundry and sleep in their own bed.
- Early in the hearing, the claimant will testify that their children are on a sports team and that they go to games, then later in the hearing, the client will testify that they have to lay down every other hour.
- Early in the hearing, the claimant will say they drove 30 minutes to the hearing, later on they testify that they can only sit 10 minutes at a time. (And will sit a full hour without getting up at the actual hearing).
- The claimant will testify that they do not smoke, drink or use drugs and the medical record will show otherwise.
- A claimant will testify that they have to lay down after standing too long, but will not mention laying down when describing their typical day.
- Early in the hearing a claimant will testify that his spouse worked full-time, but then later testified that she did everything for him during the day because he is unable to do it.
In addition to the general questions, a judge will often ask a question about something she sees in your medical record, despite actually knowing the answer, just to see if you are telling the truth. Your medical record contains much more than you think it does. I’ve had clients testify that they cannot mow grass, but the record says they did it as a side job for cash. I have had clients testify that they are not seeking work, despite the record saying they are or despite attesting to the fact that they are in order to receive unemployment benefits.
The best way to avoid ‘trick questions’ is to tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth. If you do not know the answer to a specific question, it’s okay to say I don’t know. If you are not exactly sure when something happened, but you know it was around thanksgiving two years ago, say that. Telling the truth is generally all you need to do to avoid ‘trick questions’.