You are placed under oath at the beginning of your hearing. Therefore the most important advice regarding testimony is, to-be honest. If your testimony is not consistent with the medical record, it will be given very little or no weight in the determination. You don’t want to exaggerate or fabricate, but you also don’t want to understate. You must answer the questions completely and honestly. It is helpful to consider the following format when answering questions posed to you at the hearing:
- Listen to the entire question, then answer the question with a yes or a no. Avoid answers like “sometimes,” “not very often,” or “I try.” These answers do not answer the question and are vague enough to make it sound as though you’re trying to be misleading. Avoid using words like “always” or “never,” as very few people always or never do something.
- After you answer yes or no, further explain your answer. For example, “Yes, I can do the dishes, but I have to use a stool and take breaks every 5 minutes because of my pain,” or “Yes, I can dress myself, but there are days that I am so depressed I don’t change out of the clothes I slept in.” If you stop at just a yes or a no, the judge will not understand how you’ve adapted. If you need help or encouragement to accomplish your daily tasks, or certain tasks are done differently or more slowly than before your condition began, then this is an important thing to note.
- Try to answer the question posed to you, and stick to that question. Do not take this as an opportunity to voice your complaints about the wait time, the system, or the process. Do not compare your conditions to other people who have been approved for disability.
- If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification. Do not “fake” your way through your hearing because you are embarrassed about your condition. If you have difficulties with understanding, the judge can rephrase the question. If you lose track of the question while you’re answering, the judge can re-state his or her question.
- If you are estimating, say so. It’s not uncommon for judges to ask approximately when something happened, whether it’s when an injury happened when a job ended, or when you started seeing a particular provider. If you don’t know the answer, say so. If you think it happened in a certain year but can’t be sure, say so. This helps the judge understand if your testimony is slightly inconsistent with the record.
You’ve been waiting a long time for your hearing, and it’s normal to feel anxious about the hearing. It’s important to remember that the decision is based on the medical record. All you have to do is tell the truth and tell the whole story.