You made to the hearing. The Judge has gone over your impairments, your limitations, your daily activaties. Just when you think you are done, the Judge turns to you and asks:
So, what do you see for yourself in the future?
You freeze. You ask yourself silently, “what is the Judge looking for here? This isn’t a job interview!” You need to know what this question is about.
The first thing you need to understand is that Social Security hearings are largely credibility assessments. By the time you get to the hearing, the Judge already has your medical records and statements of limitations from your doctors. In other words, the evidence is in the file.
So, why hold the hearing at all (other than to to give you your day in court)?
The Judge wants to give you a chance to show something beyond what appears in the medical records. The Judge wants to know, “what are you going through.”
Even medical records which include a “subjective” section (where the doctor’s office notes your complaints on the day of the visit), provide only a filtered version of what you are going through. The judge wants to hear what you are experiencing in your own words!
After you tell the Judge what you are going through and how your impairments affect your life, the Judge may ask you that question, “what do you see for yourself in the future.”
In my opinion, the Judge is asking:
Can I believe you? Can I believe how severe you tell me your pain is? Can I believe how often your condition keeps you from doing anything?”
Part of how the Judge decides these questions is your outlook. Do you have a positive outlook or are you a gloomy Gus.
If you see nothing positive for the future, that may affect your perception of your pain and/or limitations. The result is the Judge may discount your self-reported problems and limitations.
Is this fair? Maybe not, but in my years of taking cases to hearings, that is what I believe is happening.
Now, I don’t believe that there is necessarily a right answer. However, I believe Judges tend to respond more favorably to a more optimistic viewpoint. Judges want people who are optimist that through treatment and/or medications they will get better. If you are waiting for Medicare or Medicaid to kick it so you can get a procedure, afford a different medication, or see a specialist, this is the time to bring it up.
However, I again want to caution that there is no right answer. The best answer you can give is from the heart. Hearings are largely about assessing your credibility and if you are just saying what you think the Judge wants to hear, the Judge will know it.
I realize this post may frustrate some of you: “be optimistic” but “be honest.”
What if my honest answer isn’t optimistic?
Well, I could play lawyer-ball for a while and tell you that “every case is different,” and “not all advice will apply in every case,” and “this is just general information and not legal advice.” Hopefully, you already understand that.
My advice to my clients is always the same: be honest. Even if the answer is not optimistic, it is your best way of addressing the Judge’s questions and giving yourself the best chance of winning your case.