If you are living with a disability, you have enough to cope with, without having to battle with bureaucracy at the same time. Yet the fact is that, without a disability attorney, the vast majority of SSD (Social Security Disability) claims are denied at the earlier, simpler, stages. This can result in months or years of contesting various stages of the appeals process, which are about as bureaucratic as you can get.
There are a number of reasons why the SSA (Social Security Administration) might turn down a claim for benefits. It is sometimes because the applicant’s income or assets are too high, or because the disability is not considered severe enough to prevent the applicant from working. Very often, however, it is simply because the applicant did not have sufficient understanding of the application process, which is extremely complicated.
1. The first reason, therefore, why you need legal representation when you are claiming benefit is that it greatly improves your chances of your initial claim being approved. A disability attorney understands exactly how to present the facts, and how to fill out your application so as to demonstrate that your condition meets one of Social Security’s listed impairments. The lawyer can also obtain medical evidence from your doctor in correct legal terminology that will be approved by Social Security, which doctors do not normally provide.
2. If your initial claim is denied, and your Reconsideration request (the first appeal level) fails, your next stage is to request a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Statistics show that a claimant represented by a lawyer at the hearing stage is more than twice as likely to be successful as one who is not represented. One of the most important services a lawyer can provide for you at this stage is to gather the correct medical records, and ensure they are complete, before submitting them to the court, as incomplete or inconsistent medical records are the most common reason for an ALJ to reject a claim.
3. If your claim fails at the hearing stage, and has to go to the next stages — the Appeals Council and the Federal Court — you will most certainly need representation. The lawyer will have to provide sophisticated legal arguments to the Appeals Council, to show that the hearing judge was wrong to deny your claim. At the final stage, your lawyer will have to file a lawsuit in the Federal Court.
4. Even if you are successful with your claim, you still have to prove the onset date of your disability to ensure you receive the maximum back pay. The SSA can challenge your alleged onset date, and unrepresented claimants often do not receive the back pay to which they are entitled. Your lawyer can use medical evidence to prove the correct onset date.
5. Apart from these specific services, the fact is that you are unlikely to have any idea how to prepare a case for a disability claim. A disability attorney specializes in this area, deals with these cases every day and knows from experience what needs to be said and done to ensure a successful outcome. Attorneys also often know the judges personally, and know exactly what they are looking for.
There are certainly no magic ways of speeding up your benefits application. However, using a disability attorney can greatly increase your chances of success at the earlier stages and save you from the lengthy appeals process. Attending a hearing unrepresented can mean an opportunity lost.