February 2007


What do you do when the judge turns to the vocational expert and gives him the hypothetical question?

The reason the judge is asking the question is to find out if you can do your past work or any other work. If you can then you will be found not disabled.

You need to listen carefully to the type of limitations the judge provides to the vocational expert. If you have a limitation that he does not list or that is in your medical records you need to ask the expert about the effect the limitation would have on your past work.

The vocational expert will often be asked to provide examples of jobs you could perform based on your limitations. Once again, listen carefully for the types of jobs listed. If you do not understand the job duties ask for details. Listen for the exertional level, such as sedentary or light. Ask what makes the particular job sedentary or light.

If you have pain problems or medication side effects ask what level of concentration and productivity are required for the job. If you need to change positions often, ask if the jobs have a sit/stand option.

Remember, this is a crucial part of the hearing. If the judge finds you can do your past work, you lose. If the judge finds you can some other job, with limited exceptions, you lose.

Questions? Call me. I would be glad to talk about the specifics of your case.

So you want to represent yourself in your Social Security disability case?

Okay assuming you go against my advice to hire an experienced lawyer for no up front fees, I am going to give you some tips.

Make sure you have all your updated medical records in your file. Medical is king in Social Security disability. Weak medical means you lose.

Will your doctor write a letter for you explaining how your medical condition limits your ability to function on a daily basis? If so send it in to Social Security.

Have one or two friends or family members write a letter describing your problems and how they limit you. Take them to the hearing with you.

Think about the best words that will paint a picture of your pain, what happens when you stand, sit, walk and lift, and why you cannot work 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. 

This will get you part of the way there. In another post I will discuss your next hurdle: the vocational expert.

If you have any contact with the Social Security disability system I am sure you wonder who thought up this crazy system.

You wait for 2 to 3 years to have someone tell you that you are disabled or not. Isn’t there a better way?

I am sure that if we all sat down at our computers and blogged out ideas we could come up with a better system in an afternoon.

Problem is that it would probably cost more money, personnel and effort than any administration is willing to invest.

The dirty little secret is that disabled people have not reached the tipping point to bring in more money and personnel to speed up the process.

The Bush administration has a pilot project going to speed up the process. However, it does not appear that it will make much difference.

There may be some hope with a change in Congress and with a presidential election upcoming but there has been democratic  control before and not much has happened.

There is way too much budgetary pressure from the war, and spending overruns in other areas to expect loads of money dumped into SSA for more administrative law judges and review people.

That does not mean we should give up hope or stop trying to change the system. By all means, we should contact our elected representatives and ask them to look into the disability case backlogs and what ways we can speed up the system(see congressional link). What about a computer system that screens the vital information such as education, age, work history and medical conditions and spits out a triage of cases that meet listing and grid criteria. I am not talking about another computer contractor boondoggle that rips off the taxpayer. But something that uses available information SSA is already compiling and makes faster decisions.

Anyway, in addition to advocacy groups,  I think it is worth it for citizens to contact their government and ask them to work on improving the social security disability adjucation procedures.