Should you get Help from a Disability Attorney before the Claim has been Denied?

Should you get Help from a Disability Attorney before the Claim has been Denied?

Many times, a claimant will wait till their case has progessed to the level of a Social Security hearing before getting a qualified disability attorney to assist them with their claim. In other instances, a claimant will wait until they have received a notice of denial (officially known as a notice of disapproved claim) before getting disability representation. Neither approach is incorrect.

However, the point of this article is to point out what the advantages of having early representation on a disability case might be. So, here is a short list of considerations for those who are considering getting representation before their case is denied.

1. Many claimants who are not represented on a disability case will simply not follow through on filing the claim. In many cases, it may be due to depression or because of anxiety. In others, it may be because of comprehension or memory impairment issues. In the majority of cases, it may be due to a combination of procrastination and not wanting to believe that one's situation has finally come to the point of having to seek assistance. Having early representation can cut through this.

It used to be, going back to the last decade, that most disability lawyers and non-attorney disability representatives would not even consider assisting someone until their case had been denied at least once by the social security administration. This was not a good position to take because it meant that many claimants would be forced to "wing it". Some claimants, of course, also took the position that they should not get a lawyer too soon because they might save money. They thought, "Why should I be in the position of paying a lawyer fee when I might win on my first attempt?".

Presently, the environment for representation is different. More disability lawyers now recognize the need to provide assistance at earlier steps of the process.

This is largely because there are now so many more claims in the system and that system is "bogging down". Cases take longer, there tends to be more confusion as the social security administration makes large scale changes to how cases are considered and processed, and claimants need quicker responses from attorneys and non-attorney representatives who can make themselves available to claimants at all levels of the system, even those who have not even filed for disability but would like some advice and counsel concerning A) what to do, and B) whether or not they have a viable claim.

Is it ok for a claimant to put off representation until their claim has been denied, or until their case has moved to the hearing stage? Certainly. However, some claimants will miss certain opportunities by delaying disability representation.

This is simply a known and proven fact and, as a former disability examiner, it was very common to see cases on a weekly basis in which applicants wasted months of valuable time because A) they were doing the wrong thing and B) no one from the social security administration had bothered to advise them of what they should be doing, whereas a representative would not only have advised them but also would have performed the task for them.

2. Many claimants fail to properly follow the appeal process. In many instances, this means failing to meet appeal deadlines without being able to demonstrate good cause.

In others, it will mean filing a new claim (which is incorrect) versus filing the appropriate appeal with a social security field office. Since disability representatives take over all aspects of handling a claim from the moment a representative is designated on a form SSA-1696 (the official appointment of representative form), this mistake does not happen for represented claimants. Deadlines are also not often missed. Either mistake, of course, can have the effect of setting a case back by a factor of months.

3. Disability claimants who are not represented will often not realize how they should keep track of the status of a disability claim. Because they filed their application for disability with a local social security field office, they may believe that this is the place to call for status updates.

However, the social security office only takes the claim; it does not work on processing the claim which involves obtaining and reviewing medical evidence and having this evidence evaluated by a team of individuals including a disability examiner, a medical doctor who serves as a medical consultant for the examiner, possibly a licensed psychologist if the claim involves mental disorders or conditions, and quality control personnel who may review the decision reached by the disability examiner.

To get an update on a social security or SSI status, a claimant should contact the agency known as DDS, or disability determination services, if their claim is pending at the application level or is pending at the reconsideration level.

If the claim is pending at the hearing level, the status of the disability claim (which, in this case, would be for the scheduling of a hearing) should be obtained from the hearing office, known as ODAR, or office of disability adjudication and review. Claimants who are represented should never have to call any part of the social security administration, however, since their chosen representative will typically do this at periodic intervals.

4. Many claimants will fail to provide the information that is needed by the social security administration, and in the proper detail.

For example, social security will ask a claimant to list their medical treatment sources and work history. And claimants will comply with this but will often fail to disclose accurate dates of treatment not realizing that the social social security administration needs to uncover early dates of treatment to support the claimant's AOD, which stands for alleged onset date (essentially, the date a person claims, on a disability application, that they became disabled).

Continued at: You Cannot get a Social Security Disability or SSI Award if you don't Provide SSA what they need

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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