I cannot stress the importance of claimant credibility enough where Social Security Disability (SSDI) hearings are concerned. One of the key factors that judge or ALJ is looking for is whether or not you are a believable (or credible) witness. Despite the fact that your medical evidence weighs heavily in an adjudicator's decision, your credibility as a witness is almost as important as the physical evidence.
Credibility is not something an individual can manufacture. If your medical and/or mental problems are not serious enough to prevent you from ever working again, you're going to have difficulty winning your case or appeal no matter how credible you appear. Conversely, it is also possible to be denied SSDI benefits even if your claim is legitimate and valid, but you do not appear to be credible to the adjudicator hearing your case.
Remember first and foremost that ALJ's and judges see and listen to individuals all day long who are claiming that they are disabled and filing for SSDI benefits. It is imperative that both your demeanor and testimony be perceived as being believable if you have any hope of being awarded SSDI benefits.
3 Tips for being viewed as a credible witness
The last thing you want to convey to the adjudicator listening to your case is a demeanor that makes you look like you want to be disabled. Credibility involves believing that you truly are disabled and that if you had the choice you would work and not have to ask for SSDI benefits. Here are 3 important tips for how to be viewed as a credible witness in that adjudicator's eyes:
1. You are appearing in front of an adjudicator in a private court of law, so dress appropriately - your attire and how well you are dressed could positively influence the ALJ's or judge's decision to approve or deny your claim. In other words, torn blue jeans and a t-shirt are not going to help your case.
2. When answering questions, be as specific as possible - credible testimony results from your ability to provide the adjudicator with accurate, informative answers to their questions. Be ready to answer questions like:
"How far are you able to walk"
"How long can you remain seated"
"How much weight are you able to lift and carry"
3. Never over exaggerate how much pain you are suffering - your case worker and the adjudicator expect you list the extent of the pain you are encountering by virtue of your condition. You may be asked to explain your pain levels, but try not to "Hollywood" it by saying things like "on a scale of 1-10, my pain is always a 10." This will be viewed as an exaggeration and will not help your case.
Jonathan Ginsberg has been practicing Social Security Disability law in the Atlanta, Georgia area for over 20 years. His website can be found at www.atlantasocialsecuritydisabilityattorney.net
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