At your Railroad Retirement Board disability hearing you’ll be asked most of the questions that follow. Please read this list in its entirety in order to get some idea of how your questioning might go.
What is your age? What is your height? What is your present weight? Has there been any variation in your weight in the last two years? Where and with whom do you live? Do you live in a house? Apartment? mobile home? How many floors do you have? Do you have a yard? Do you have a pet? What kind? What are your yard and pet care activities? Do you have children? What are their ages? What are your childcare responsibilities? Do you drive? How often? How far? Did you drive to the hearing or did somebody else drive you? Did you have to make any stops on the way? How many miles was the drive? And how long did it take you to get here? Please note that these are not random questions but each has a purpose in determining whether or not you are disabled within the meaning of the RRB guidelines. You should discuss with your RRB disability attorney what the significance of each is.
Are you able to use public transportation? Why/why not? Have you had any vocational training or work since you filed your claim? Please describe. Have you looked for work? Why or why not? Where did you last work? For whom did you work? What kind of work was it? When did you leave your job? What were you doing? Why did you leave? What were your prior jobs? Why did you leave them? How many years did you have each one of those jobs? Why did you leave your last work? Please again note that these are not random questions but each has a purpose and carries presumptions if answered in a certain way in determining whether or not you are disabled within the meaning of the RRB guidelines. You should discuss with your RRB disability attorney what the significance of each is.
Do you have any hobbies or Social interests? What are they? Do you go to church? How many times a week? What are your church or extracurricular activities? Do you have any hobbies? Have you given up any hobbies? Why?
Please describe your typical day. What is your pain level on each one of those days? Rate your pain from 0 to 10. By the “one” I mean almost none and “ten” I mean pain so bad that you need to go to the emergency room.
What else do you do during the day? What sort of meals do you have during the day? Are you able to make Breakfast? What do you make for breakfast? Do you have lunch? What time do you have lunch? Can you fix your own food? What sort of foods do you make for yourself? What time do you have dinner? What do you eat for dinner? What do you prepare for your evening meal? Do you do chores during the day? What chores do you do? What chores can’t you do? Why?
What time do you go to bed? How well do you sleep? If you have any problems sleeping why do you have problems and what are they? How do you feel the next day? Do you feel rested or fatigued? Do you need to nap during the day? Why? Do medications affect your ability to stay awake and alert during the day?
Do you have physical problems during the day? Are you able to watch TV? Do you read? What do you read? How long do you read? Are you able to use a computer? Do you use a laptop? Can you carry it? Do you play video games? What games do you play? How long do you play them? Are you able to use an iPad? Are you able to use an iPhone? Are you able to pay your bills on time and online? Do you cook and or clean up after dinner? Do you go shopping? What do you shop for? Are you able to carry in your groceries? Why and why not? Can you do yardwork? Why not? What can you do and for how long can you do it? What, if anything limits you in your activities? Do you need help with your activities?
What medical problems do you have that prevent you from returning to your last job? What are your symptoms? Do you suffer from fatigue or confusion? How long? How often? What are your symptoms on a daily basis? When do they occur? How long do they last? What do you have to do to relieve your symptoms? Can you rate your pain during the day between zero and 10? On your best day What is your pain level on your best days? On your worst day what is your pain level? How many days a week do you have worst days? Are you affected by pain when you get into the car or are driving? Do you need to rest in bed a special chair or recliner while at your home during the day? Please tell me why do you have to do this?
What medications are you on that affect your ability to return to work? Do you suffer from fatigue? How often?
Starting with the top of your head and going to the bottom of your feet please describe your symptoms that prevent you from working?
Are you able to walk? Are you able to walk over uneven surfaces? Do you need a cane or other assistive device? Was it prescribed by your doctor? What is the doctor’s name? Do you have any problems walking up or down stairs or ramps? How long can you walk? Do you have to sit down after walking? For how long? Please note that if you are asked these questions, you must ask “With or without pain or discomfort” or it will be presumed that you have no discomfort. So you will have to describe your ability to walk, sit or stand WITHOUT DISCOMFORT! It is very important that you are clear about when the pain and discomfort sets in. If you do not, then the RRB Hearing officer will presume that you can do things without pain.
Do you have any back, hip or leg problems? How do they limit you? Do they give you difficulty when you try to sleep? What do you have to do to relieve the pain? Are you on any prescription medications? Please name them. What do they do for you? Are there any side effects of the medication? What are they?
YOUR RESIDUAL FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY
The hearing officer will then go the residual functional capacity form that is in your file. He will use the one that was created by the Railroad Retirement Board Medical Evaluator and then ask the following questions:
Can you lift and carry objects? What is the heaviest object that you are able to lift and carry? Are you able to stand and walk? How long can you stand and walk and be on your feet during the day? How many hours total would that be? How long are you able to stand and walk before you need to sit? How long do you have to sit down after you have been standing and walking? Are you able to sit six hours total during a regular workday? If you cannot set for six hours total why can’t you? Do you require the use of a cane walker or walking device while you work? Are you able to stoop and bend occasionally? Please note that when the hearing officer uses the word “occasionally” that means up to 1/3 of an eight hour workday. That is approximately 2 1/2 hours? “Less than occasionally” would be less than 6% of the workday, so it is very important that you ask the judge to define “occasionally“. If you do not think that you can “occasionally” do the tasks at the judge asks you about, meaning 1/3 of an eight hour day the answer should be no. If you can work up to 1/3 of an eight-hour day then you can do things occasionally. Again, the word occasionally is a vocational term of art and the hearing officer will use your answers as to what you can and cannot do “occasionally” to determine what jobs there are left for you in the national economy that you can do based on the residual functional capacity that he has placed before him. Please note that you must ask “With or without pain or discomfort” or it will be presumed that you have no discomfort. That will hurt your case. So you will have to describe your ability to walk, sit or stand WITHOUT ANY DISCOMFORT! Once again, I cannot emphasize how important your truthful and accurate responses are. The same is true of your understanding of the term “Occasionally” that the Hearing officer will use.
TIME OFF TASK
The RRB hearing officer will ask you if you were able to maintain focus and attention during most of an eight hour workday. If you doze off due to the side effects of medications or mental condition or from lack of restful sleep, or have frequent need to use the bathroom or the effects of medication or such are that they take you off tasks then you need to tell the judge about it. If doze odd an awful lot or are distracted because of pain so that you cannot do simple routine repetitive tasks on a regular basis without “significant interruption” meaning more than 10% of an eight hour workday inclusive of all breaks at mid morning, mid-afternoon and lunchtime, then you are most likely going to be found disabled if there are clinical notes from your treating physician available to support your testimony as to these periods.
POSTURAL LIMITATIONS & USE OF BILATERAL HANDS, ABSENTEEISM
If you are only able to do certain tasks like bending, crouching and using your bilateral hands less than “occasionally“, meaning less than 6% of an eight hour day, then you are most likely disabled. Nationally if your symptoms are so bad that they would interfere with your ability to maintain a regular work schedule so that you would either leave early, come in late or be absent from work two or more days per month, that would eliminate the competitive job base for you and you would most likely be found disabled.
“Never” being able to stoop essentially eliminates all jobs in the light duty exertional level and most sedentary work categories. Being able to reach bilaterally but less than occasionally would illuminate virtually all jobs at the light and sedentary levels with the exception of surveillance system monitor. Since there are over 8,100 jobs available as a surveillance system monitor in the United States these are jobs that are available in the national economy available in significant numbers so that if you are found able to do the work of surveillance system monitor, for example, you would not be found to be disabled.
There are a multiplicity of ways to eliminate the job of surveillance system monitor from cases where work is reduced to sedentary only. Among them is the necessity to take an unreasonable number of breaks during the day due to medication, need for bathroom breaks (IBS, defective bladder and Chron’s Cases) and other symptoms of your disability. Those who are off task for over 10% of the typical workday cannot compete in the national economy. Additionally if you have a bad back or a bad heart if your doctor confirms that you will need to keep your legs elevated above waist level for two hours or more of an eight hour day, for whatever bona fide medical reason, then even the job of surveillance system monitor will not be available to you. Finally, in sedentary work, if you cannot sit for a total of six hours or more per day or work more than 34 hours per week because of your condition, then that would eliminate regular full time work for you. The same would be true if for example you had carpal tunnel or a shoulder surgery limiting the use of your hands bilaterally to do gross and fine manipulation less than occasionally and/or your ability to reach bilaterally in all directions were reduced to less than occasionally and/or your ability to handle and finger objects then you are most likely disabled.
Please be advised that the questions and scenarios above are in no way exhaustive but they are illustrative of the questions and issues addressed at your hearing if the underlying causes for your disability are predominantly physical. This is why you need to hire and get with a skilled RRD Disability Attorney in order to work your case up as each case is surely different. Specific “Grid Rules” apply at different ages for people generally between the age of 40 and 60, so that depending on your age different Grid Rules will apply to your case and other cases.
In determining your entitlement to disability benefits, your Hearing officer will use the following definitions and apply them to your age, your physical findings, Residual Functional Capacity and transferrable job skills and to where you fall on the “Grid” to determine if you can or cannot do certain kinds of work. The Grid is used in all cases where a claimant does not meet the severity criteria of a listed Medical Impairment. What constitutes a Listed Medical Impairment is beyond the scope of this Frequently Asked Question. Suffice it to say that if you fulfilled the criteria (Like being completely blind in both eyes or missing two hands or two feet or any combination of that loss, you and your attorney would not need to be preparing for a hearing as the case would have been determined at the level of your original filing.
- Sedentary work. Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.
- Light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.
- Medium work. Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, we determine that he or she can also do sedentary and light work.
- Heavy work. Heavy work involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. If someone can do heavy work, we determine that he or she can also do medium, light, and sedentary work.