It is a relatively rare situation where the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) contests a claimant’s alleged medical impairments. While the diagnoses are not at issue, the severity of the claimant’s medical condition is the primary issue at the vast majority of Social Security Disability (“SSD”) hearings.
When preparing for a hearing, it is critical to focus on the real purpose for holding a hearing. A hearing is required when the SSA has determined that the objective medical evidence in the file does not suffice to establish the claimant’s entitlement to SSD benefits. Therefore, a hearing is held to see if the subjective medical evidence, the claimant’s sworn testimony, is enough to establish the claimant’s entitlement to SSD benefits when added to the objective medical evidence.
Since the purpose of the hearing is to assess whether the claimant’s subjective complaints are credible, evidence establishing credibility in general should be provided. I received a fully favorable decision today that illustrates this point.
The claimant was under 50 years of age, had a high school education, and a skilled sedentary job, which qualified her as a young, skilled, well educated person. An application by such a claimant is subject to the strictest standard for entitlement to SSD benefits. While an older, less skilled or less educated person with the same medical records may have been entitled to SSD benefits, my client had to rely on her subjective complaints to augment her claim.
I did two things to bolster the claimant’s credibility. First, I conducted a direct examination eliciting the claimant’s entire work history based on her SSA earnings record, which extended 31 years including the last 13 years with the same employer. I advised the ALJ on the record that the federal courts hold that where a claimant has a long work history of continuous work at the same employer, her testimony as to her capabilities is entitled to substantial credibility, and, that a claimant’s long and honorable work history justifies the inference that when she stopped working she did so for the reasons testified to. I then pointed out that the claimant’s SSD benefits would not come close to the income of her well paying job, and that commonsense dictated that she would have continued working if able to do so.
The other tactic that I intended to use to bolster the claimant’s testimony was to have the claimant’s mother testify as a witness, but the ALJ stated that would not be necessary. That indicated the ALJ accepted the claimant’s credibility and would approve SSD benefits because failing to develop the administrative hearing record by precluding witness testimony would have been reversible errorPrevious Next
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