Will Your Disability Case Pass the Sniff Test?

June 13, 2018

Admit it. At some time or other in your life, you sniffed an item of clothing you previously wore to see if it was okay to wear again, or sniffed that aging carton of milk in the fridge to see if it was still drinkable. We also do that with stories we are told—“sniffing” them for inconsistencies.

Likewise, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who decide disability cases frequently apply a sniff test to testimony from disability applicants. In many ways, a Social Security hearing is an evaluation of your credibility. The ALJ is trying to determine if he or she can believe what you say about your disabilities. Simply put, whether or not the judge can believe you is critical to your case. If the judge doubts what you say and believes you are being untruthful or exaggerating your symptoms, or if you are inconsistent in your testimony, it is an almost sure bet that you will be turned down for benefits.

The fixes for untruthful statements or exaggerating your symptoms are simple: Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate your symptoms. Inconsistencies can be a bit trickier because often they are not as obvious. Here are a couple of examples.

Example #1
Claimant “A” alleged that her anxiety was so intense that she rarely left her house. However, she had made off-the-cuff remarks to her psychiatrist (which he included in her medical records) that from time-to-time, she attended her child’s school sporting events and plays. This cast doubt on whether her anxiety was really disabling. However, upon further exploration of this seeming inconsistency, it was learned that she watched the sporting events from her car, and when she went to the school auditorium, she sat way in the back so she could make a quick exit when she became anxious, which happened often.

Example #2
In addition to a disabling heart condition, Claimant “B” had a history of alcohol abuse. “B” did not know that a history of drug or alcohol abuse can potentially derail a disability benefits claim. However, “B’s” disability lawyer detailed to the judge what the claimant was doing to treat his addictions. The ALJ appreciated that “B” and his attorney were being “up front” about this bad evidence. On the other hand, if there had been an attempt to cover-up the evidence or mislead the ALJ about its importance, both the claimant’s and the attorney’s credibility would have been seriously damaged.

As experienced local Chicago Social Security disability attorneys, we are always on the lookout for the facts that will help to win disability cases. Often there are hidden details or extenuating circumstances that can explain apparent inconsistencies. That is why it is important to give as much information about your symptoms and daily activities as you can to your attorney so that we can help to offer a truthful and credible explanation, which will pass a judge’s sniff test.