Should I hire a disability lawyer?
There is no pat answer for this question if you are filing an initial disability claim or reconsideration appeal. A disability lawyer or Social Security representative cannot do any more than you can do if you are filing your disability claim. If you feel more comfortable with a lawyer at this stage, then by all means hire one to help you.
Hiring a disability lawyer or representative may become a little more important at the reconsideration appeal. If you are not able to keep up with filing deadlines, or you have a difficult time completing appeal forms, either paper or online, you may need to hire a lawyer.
You have a 60-day appeal period that begins with the date of the letter in which to file your reconsideration appeal. Social Security give you an additional five days for the time it took for your decisional letter to reach you, which gives you a total of 65 days to get your appeal filed. If you have conditions that prevent you from filing your reconsideration appeal timely, you should consider the services of a disability lawyer or representative at this time. The important thing is to keep your disability claim moving forward through the appeal process.
It still helps to have a lawyer in the beginning
Now, all this said, there is a rationale for getting a disability lawyer early. A lawyer can make sure that you properly respond to requests for information from Social Security, make sure that you do not miss imporant filing deadlines, and make sure that you are reminded to attend needed appointments such as for a consultative medical exam. Missed deadlines, or failing to appeal, can easily cause you to lose months of valuable case processing time. Such situations may even force you to have to start over with a new claim.
As a disability examiner and working in representation, I routinely came across people who had failed to understand the appeal process and wasted many months of time unnecessarily. I also knew of a situation where a very intelligent individual failed to understand, after filing for disability online, that he had, in fact, been denied. Because of this misunderstanding, he missed his appeal deadline and had to start over from scratch. That mistake cost him about three months of processing time.
When you should definitely get a disability lawyer
If your reconsideration appeal is denied, you should consider getting a disability lawyer or representative no matter what your disabling condition is. If you have not been approved for disability in the initial or reconsideration appeal levels, your disability claim is not a clear-cut approval for Social Security Disability.
This means that you should have someone who is familiar with all of the Social Security rulings and medical vocational guidelines to present your disability claim in a way that is most favorable to your being approved for disability.
Lastly, you do not have to pay your lawyer or Social Security Disability a retainer or fee upfront. If your disability claim is approved, they receive a fee for their services. Currently, your lawyer is allowed 25% of your back payment of disability benefits up to $6000.00. You pay the lesser of 25% or 6000.00. If you do not have a back payment, they are not entitled to a fee. However, this does not mean you are not responsible for payment of any non-fee expenses you agree to pay in your fee agreement with your lawyer, such as reimbursement for the cost of obtaining medical records.
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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