As clients prepare for their hearings, they often ask whether they should bring witnesses with them. Often times, clients will tell me that their fathers or wives or children can tell the judge how bad off they are. While this is a sound idea, it does not work very well in practice.
Just The Facts, Ma'am
In almost every instance, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in a case wants to hear from the claimant and no one else. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, by the time of the hearing, the ALJ will have reviewed all of the claimant's medical records. The ALJ should have a good grasp on the issues in the case. What an ALJ typically wants to do at a hearing is clarify some specific medical or vocational questions in the case. Witnesses are generally not going to assist in that pursuit. The second reason why witnesses don't typically add much to the proceedings is more pragmatic: Time. ALJ's are already hopelessly behind in their case loads. They simply do not have the ability to make each hearing longer than it needs to be.
What Else Would You Say?
Consider also that most of the witnesses claimants plan to bring to a hearing have some direct connection to them. Most often, they are family members. When this happens, a judge will typically dismiss whatever the family-member witness has to say. They do this in two ways. First, the judge will note that the witness has a strong bias in favor of the claimant. Second, the judge will point out that these witnesses do not have any training to evaluate medical limitations. This second justification is bit off the mark. Family members who testify are not there to render medical opinions. Nonetheless, the judge is almost certainly going to dismiss the witness testimony on that basis.
Witnesses Can Help In Some Cases
There are cases where witnesses make sense. They are necessary, for example, in case for minors. Family members can add useful insight in mental health cases, where the claimant is often not able to assess his own limitations. Medical witnesses are always welcome. If you can get your doctor to attend your hearing, please do. But, this almost never happens. Doctors are simply too busy to attend Social Security disability hearings. Other doctors are allergic to any legal proceedings and will avoid them at all costs.
If you would feel more comfortable having a family member with you at your hearing, ask him or her to attend. But, don't plan on having that person testify.
As always, I welcome your question or comments on this or any other topic.