Improving Your Chances
Improving Your Chances
How We Help Michigan Social Security Disability Claimants
At MedLaw Associates PC, Michigan Social Security disability is all we do. We are experienced Lansing disability lawyers who have devoted our practice to representing individuals at Social Security disability hearings. If your initial application for benefits was denied, we can help with your appeal by:
- Formulating a winning legal theory.
- Gathering medical evidence in support of your claim.
- Preparing you and your witnesses to testify at the hearing.
- Submitting a written argument to the judge.
- Attending the hearing with you and presenting a compelling case.
1. Formulating a winning legal theory
Our first step in formulating a winning legal theory is to sit down with our client to talk about the case. We will take the time to listen to you and learn about your unique situation. The next step is to determine the reason Social Security denied your claim. This is not always apparent from the language of your denial letter, but we can usually deduce the reason based on our experience. Next, we will turn our attention to the medical issues in your case, and analyze those issues in the context of the Social Security laws. Lastly, we consider your ability to work in the real world (as opposed to the hypothetical world created by Social Security). If we truly believe that you are not able to work and will not be able to return to work in the future, we will use all this information to come up with a legal theory that will compel the judge to award you benefits.
2. Gathering medical evidence in support of your claim
One common reason for the denial of a Social Security disability claim is incomplete medical information. If you have a complicated medical history or you have been treated by many different doctors or facilities, you may have failed to provide Social Security with all the relevant medical evidence in your case. We will gather any missing evidence and make sure your hearing exhibit file is complete. If necessary, we will refine our case theory so that it is consistent with your medical records. Most importantly, we will obtain a medical opinion statement from your treating doctor, which sets forth the doctor’s opinions regarding the nature and severity of your condition and explains in detail your symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, limitations, and abilities. Educating your doctor about the importance of his or her role in your case is an important aspect of this process.
3. Preparing you and your witnesses to testify at the hearing
Preparing you and your witnesses to testify at the hearing is, perhaps, our most important job. It is also the most difficult. The challenge stems from the fact that many logical, commonsense arguments have no place in the disability determination process. For example, if the judge asks you to explain why you are not able to do sedentary work, your first instinct might be to respond, “I’m not qualified for sedentary work,” or “There are no jobs like that available,” or “That kind of work won’t pay enough to support my family.” All of this may be true, but it is irrelevant to the decision-maker’s analysis of your claim for disability benefits. In fact, the judge may view these answers as a tacit admission that you are, in fact, capable of sedentary work (and, thus, not eligible for Social Security disability benefits). We can help you (and your witnesses) focus your testimony on the facts that are important to the hearing judge – namely, your physical and mental capacity for work.
4. Prior to the hearing, submitting a written argument to the judge
Prior to the hearing, we will write a letter to the judge. This letter (or “brief”) spells out our “theory of recovery.” This letter will help the judge understand exactly why you qualify for Social Security disability benefits. It will describe in detail how the evidence in your case meets the requirements of the various Social Security rules and regulations, and supports your eligibility. We firmly believe that giving the judge a carefully constructed written argument prior to the hearing improves your chances of being approved because the judge doesn’t have to guess at why we think you are disabled. It allows the judge to ask you questions relating to our argument. Plus, the judge can refer to this written statement later, when he reviews the evidence and the rules that apply in your case. Often, we find that the judge’s written favorable decision in a client’s case will quote portions of this letter word for word.
5. Attending the hearing with you and presenting a compelling case
We will be by your side during the hearing, guiding your testimony and that of your corroborating witnesses. If the government calls a vocational expert, we will challenge that expert’s testimony on cross-examination. If the judge has an issue with a particular aspect of your case, we can address it at that time.
We have been advocating for the rights of Social Security disability claimants for decades. During that time, we have represented thousands of claimants in Michigan Social Security disability hearings. We are local. We are knowledgeable. We are experienced. Social Security disability is all we do.
Your first consultation with us is free. You will find that we are good listeners, skilled at honing in on the issues at the heart of your case. If you need representation at a disability hearing and you would like to meet with us, please use the Free Claim Evaluation form on this page to tell us about your situation, or call or email us directly.
The Lansing disability lawyers at MedLaw Associates PC guide you through a Michigan Social Security disability hearing
In Michigan, 70% of all Social Security disability cases are denied the first time they are considered. If your initial application for Michigan Social Security disability benefits was denied, you will need to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The hearing is very important. It is your single best chance (by far) of being awarded Social Security disability benefits. Below you will find some general information and guidelines we have put together based on our experience handling thousands of Social Security disability hearings.
When to arrive
On the day of the hearing, you should plan to arrive half an hour before the scheduled hearing time, unless your attorney tells you to arrive at some other time. If you are late, your hearing likely will be canceled and you will have to wait months for another hearing date. Even worse, your case could be dismissed, and you could lose your appeal without a hearing ever being held.
The outcome of your hearing will be influenced by the quality of your medical evidence, as well as by your behavior and testimony at the hearing. You must be viewed as credible. If the judge has reason to believe you are being dishonest or deliberately misleading, your testimony could be totally disregarded. Things that might lead a judge to question a claimant’s credibility include obvious exaggeration (such as, saying you do “nothing” all day or that your pain is at “Level 10 all the time”). It is far better to be truthful than to try to scam the judge. That tactic is guaranteed to fail. Social Security judges preside over many thousands of cases; they really have seen and heard it all.
Your credibility does not come only from the things you say, but also from your behavior. This includes your behavior during the hearing, as well as any casual observations made of you outside of the hearing room. Accordingly, from the first moment you approach the hearings office, you must always conduct yourself as if you were in the presence of the judge. You never know when you will be walking down the block next to the judge or other hearings office staff. Many cases have been lost (and won) because the judge was silently observing the claimant as he walked to his hearing.
Likewise, do not talk about your case with anyone other than your attorney as you are waiting for your hearing to begin. This applies to conversations you may have in the elevator, the hallway or in the waiting room. You never know when something you say could be overheard by someone and be used against you.
A Social Security disability hearing is not like a formal courtroom proceeding. There are no spectators who are not directly involved in the hearing. There is the judge, who is employed by the Social Security Administration to hold such hearings; a hearing monitor who is taking notes and recording the hearing; the claimant (that’s you); your attorney (if you have one), your witnesses or observers (if you bring them); and, sometimes, there is a vocational expert and, sometimes, a doctor who knows about the kind of medical problems you have. The doctor will not be anyone who has personally examined you. He is there to help the judge understand the medical evidence. The vocational expert is there to comment on the types of jobs you have done in the past and the types of jobs that would be possible for someone with limitations similar to yours.
Testimony tips, do’s and don’ts
At the hearing, you and the experts present will be asked to take an oath to testify truthfully. The judge will ask you questions about your medical problems, your limitations, your education, your past work, and your daily activities. It is at this point that human nature sometimes gets in the way of presenting your best evidence. If the judge asks you how much you weigh, tell him the truth even though it may be embarrassing. Sometimes a disability case may be influenced by extremes of weight. Also, when he asks about the duties you performed in your past work or your level of education, tell the truth. This is not a job interview, and you won’t be judged harshly for having done only menial work or having dropped out of school.
If you are represented by a Lansing disability lawyer, the judge may ask your lawyer to do this initial questioning. Your lawyer’s role is to know your situation in detail, so that she can ask additional questions to ensure that the most important information is presented to the judge. Your lawyer also will be able to question the witnesses brought by the government. Usually the vocational expert or doctor will not ask you questions directly, but they may. The vocational expert may ask you questions about your past work, and the doctor might ask you questions about the treatment you have had.
You are the star witness. Your testimony is the most important part of the hearing. When you are asked questions, it is important that you understand what you are being asked. If you are not sure you understand the question, ask for the question to be repeated or explained. If you are unrepresented, it is especially important that you listen carefully to the questions being asked and consider the reason for the question. Then, respond only after careful consideration – keeping in mind all your limitations (every condition you have which stops you from doing any job) when you respond. Sometimes the things that limit you are hard to talk about – things like bowel and bladder problems – but these issues may be what ultimately tip the case in your favor. If these problems would influence your ability to work full-time every day, with only two breaks a day, be sure to talk about them.
It is never useful to complain to the judge about how much you have “paid into the system” or how you cannot make ends meet. Nor is it helpful to insist you can do nothing. Your job at the hearing is to be credible. Your goal should be that by the end of the hearing the judge to know what it is like to be you.
The more completely you can answer the questions, the stronger your case will be. There is no need to ramble or exaggerate, but it is important that your testimony be as specific as possible. For example, if you are asked how long you can stand, you have to say more than, “Not very long.” A better answer might be: “I can stand for about 15 to 20 minutes… I can’t stand long enough to do my dishes without taking a break and sitting down.”
The judge will be observing you during the hearing and will be making a note of any inconsistencies between your testimony and his observations. For example, if the judge asks you how long you can sit, and you reply, “ten minutes,” he may make a note of the fact that you have already been sitting for 30 minutes without apparent difficulty. It would be far better to give more complete information. For example: “I can sit for 10 minutes without difficulty; if I force myself, I can sit for a longer period of time, but when I do that it causes severe pain and I have to take additional pain medication.”
If you are asked whether you could do a certain job (a favorite question of some judges), consider whether you could do that job 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. If you couldn’t, then you need to include that information in your response. If you are asked how much you can lift, be sure to answer the question in a way that tells the judge how often you can lift that amount. If you know that performing a certain activity causes you pain or other problems, include that information in your response. The issues are whether there are “significant numbers of those jobs” and whether you “could do it on a regular basis.” The best way to think about this is to visualize yourself doing the job every day, week after week; anticipate the problems that would cause for you; and be clear about those problems in your answer to the judge.
If you become uncomfortable at any time during the hearing, e.g., you need to stand, walk, use the restroom, take medication, etc., do not hesitate to tell the judge and ask permission to do whatever it is that you need to do.
It is sometimes helpful to bring a witness who has had an opportunity to observe the difficulties you have had, particularly if the witness is better able to provide the information than you are. Your witnesses must only testify about those things that they have actually seen. They cannot talk about how much pain you are in or how tired you are because no one else can personally experience your pain or your fatigue. Your witness should not talk about what a good person you are and how much you need or deserve the disability payments. The judge is not interested and will probably ignore that part of the testimony. If you bring a witness to testify on your behalf, the judge may require your witness to sit outside the hearing room until after you have testified.
Contact Lansing disability lawyers, MedLaw Associates PC
Your Michigan Social Security disability hearing is your chance to speak directly to the decision-maker in your case and explain why you are unable to work. With the help and guidance of an experienced Lansing disability lawyer, you can make the most of this opportunity. If you would like to talk with us in advance of your hearing, please call or email us.