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How to answer when the ALJ asks, “Why can’t you work?”

When you have a Hearing with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) coming up where you hope to successfully plead your case for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, it helps to be prepared.

Since the ALJ will already have your case file (with all your medical records inside), you should probably focus on thinking about how to answer the ALJ’s direct questions. One of those is almost bound to be, “Why can’t you work?’

There are lots of right answers – and one wrong one

It’s not uncommon for people to blurt out something like, “Nobody will hire me!” in response to this question from the ALJ, but this is exactly the wrong answer to give.

Social Security Disability benefits are only awarded when you have a medical or physical impairment (or a combo of such conditions) that actually prevents you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. They are not a form of unemployment benefits that are awarded because you lost your old job and are having trouble finding a new one.

Most of the time, what claimants mean when they say something like this is, “I have too many restrictions because of my physical and mental impairments, and I can’t find any work that I am capable of doing.” That’s not what the judge hears, however.

So, what is an acceptable answer? Tell the judge exactly how your condition limits you. For example, if your back prevents you from standing, walking, kneeling, lifting or carrying for any length of time and you’ve always been a laborer, explain that to the judge. That’s the sort of information that they can use to put your claim into perspective.

You’ve waited months (possibly years) for your chance to speak directly to an Administrative Law Judge about your Social Security Disability claim, so it’s okay to be nervous – but you don’t have to go through this alone. Experienced legal guidance can help you prepare your case in the most effective way possible.


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