Do I need an attorney to get disability?
You may or may not need an attorney for your initial disability claim. If you are able to provide the necessary medical and job information for your disability claim, can read and interpret official correspondence from SSA, and respond to requests for information, there may be nothing more a representative can do for you at this level of the Social Security Disability process.
That said, two things should be pointed out. First, most claims are denied initially, meaning getting early representation can make a lot of sense. Secondly, a disability representative, who may be a disability attorney, or a non-attorney disability representative, can help reduce mistakes made on cases, and ensure that appeal deadlines are met. Many disability representatives will assist with filing the initial claim, and all will file the necessary appeals.
Specific things an attorney will to help your claim:
1. Make followup calls to check the status of your claim.
2. Receive copies of all Social Security correspondence sent to you so that they can remind you to respond to letters, questionaires, and attend examination appointments.
3. Obtain medical source statements from physicians who have a history of providing you treatment.
4. Evaluate your old and newer medical evidence to determine if your claim satisfies the SSA definition of disability. This is to determine if you have a case that should be be approved on a listing, or by considering your medical records and work history.
5. Evaluate your vocational work history to see if your case will qualify for Social Security Disability or SSI via a medical vocational allowance (an approval in which a disability examiner or judge determines that you cannot go back to your past work or perform some type of other work).
If you are not able to do these things you may need the services of someone who can help you get your disability claim filed.
The real need for an attorney or representative becomes more apparent if you have to use the Social Security Disability appeal process to continue your disability claim.
If your initial disability claim is denied, you have to file a reconsideration appeal, and to be honest at this appeal level you are most likely perfectly capable of completing the paper appeal forms or you can complete the reconsideration appeal forms online. The reconsideration appeal level has the poorest approval rate of the disability process, because the appeal goes to the same disability determination agency for a decision. The only difference being that it is sent to a different disability examiner, who like the initial disability examiner, uses the same decisional criteria. If the first disability examiner did not make an error, the decision will be the same.
If your reconsideration appeal is denied, you must file a request for an administrative law judge hearing. It is at this level of the disability process that it is advisable to have the services of a competent attorney or representative. Disability hearings are informal hearings held before an administrative law judge and as such you need someone who knows Social Security Disability case law, rules, and medical vocational guidelines.
It takes a long time to get to your disability hearing and the chance of being approved for disability is greatest at this level. But, proper case preparation can make the difference between winning or not. You will be more likely to win your disability case at a hearing if you have an attorney or non-attorney Social Security representative.
About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.
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