Do I need a lawyer or representative for a disability hearing?
Very few individuals would be qualified to represent themselves at a disability hearing. This is simply because the system is complex. Disability examiners have a very specific approach to evaluating both a person's medical record documentation and work history in order to determine if a claimant actually meets the Social Security Administration's definition of disability.
How complex is the decision-making process? An examiner will check to see if a claimant has a medical condition that is contained in the disability listings and if they also meet the criteria for a listing approval. If a person cannot be approved under a listing, the examiner will determine what the person's functional limitations (which can be mental, physical, or both) are and then compare these limitations to what the individual's past jobs required. The purpose of this is to determine if the claimant can go back to their past work, or switch to some form of other work.
Obviously, this is not a simple process. And, likewise, it is not a simple process for someone who has not been trained in the disability determination system to understand. So, the answer is yes, anyone who is going to a disability hearing would be wise to have representation by a lawyer or advocate.
If you have applied for disability and been denied, the reason you have not been approved with your initial disability claim or reconsideration appeal is, logically, that your claim is not a clear approval under Social Security Disability guidelines. This, of course, means that you will need to do more to prove your case if you expect to be approved at your disability hearing.
As an average person, you will not be familiar with the guidelines and rules of Social Security Disability. And you would not be able to present your case in a manner that would lead to an approval unless your disability condition has worsened to the point that it meets or equals an impairment listing or it is expected to result in death.
Also, you cannot take out the possibility that you will be emotional and unable to talk about your disability claim objectively. This might be expected as you have probably waited a long time for this hearing and it is likely that your financial situation has worsened over all of this time. So'
In practically all situations, it would be advisable to obtain the services of a competent representative for your disability hearing, who could be a disability attorney or a non-attorney disability representative. They will be able to present your disability case to the administrative law judge in a way that is most favorable for a positive outcome. They are able to do this because they are familiar with Social Security Disability case law, rules, and vocational guidelines. They can also relate to the administrative law judge in a professional and unemotional way so as to convince the judge that the facts of your disability case warrant a finding of disabled.
Social Security keeps statistical information with regard to disability hearing approvals and denials and there is no doubt having a professional representative will increase your chance of being approved at your upcoming disability hearing.
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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