Should I get a lawyer for my disability hearing for SSD or SSI?

Should I get representation for an upcoming hearing?

Summary: Social Security does not require a lawyer for a disability hearing. But there are several reasons why having assistance will be helpful, or even vital to winning a case at the hearing level, starting with knowledge of how decisions are made and what a specific needs to win before a judge.

Should I get representation for an upcoming hearing?

As we stated, if you are pursuing SSD or SSI benefits, Social Security most certainly does not require that you have representation. However, you might benefit from the services of a competent Social Security Disability representative or disability attorney.

What is the difference between using a representative or attorney? Practically, none. A non-attorney representative may also be more likelier to have formerly worked for the Social Security Administration, or for DDS as a disability examiner.

Getting evidence for the hearing

Whoever represents your case, they will be responsible for obtaining to win your claim. This is particularly important since SSA does not obtain your most recent medical records at the hearing level. And since it can take over a year to get to a hearing, this can mean that everything in your file is a year old. Note: SSA cannot approve a disability claim unless they have at least some evidence that is recent, meaning not older than 90 days.

In this regard, a lawyer or non-attorney rep can make sure your disability claim file has the necessary medical information. This will also typically include attempting to obtain solid statements from your doctor or doctors (treating physicians is the term used by SSA). Medical source statements, as they are called, can certainly help win SSD or SSI benefits at a hearing with an ALJ (administrative law judge).

Hearing expertise

In addition to evidence gathering, representation at your hearing can present the information in a way that is most favorable for your being approved. Disability claims with representation at the hearing are about 21% more likely to be approved than those that are not represented. And to a great extent, this may be because a disability attorney or non-attorney representative understands vocational grid rules, sequential evaluation, onset dates in relation to filing dates, DLI (date last insured) issues, substantial gainful activity, and other terms and concepts which claimants, most likely, have never heard of.

Being represented at a hearing, or not

Social Security does not require that you be represented at a disability hearing. But'it is very unwise to represent yourself at a hearing.

Social Security also does not require that your representative be an attorney. As we said, often a Social Security Disability representative is more familiar with Social Security medical vocational guides lines and case law than an attorney unless the attorney's focus is strictly Social Security Disability, versus taking the occasional SSD or SSI case. And even then, some non-attorney representatives are simply better, especially if they have been handling cases for many years.

If you represent your disability claim at the hearing, you may be approved if your disability claim is a clear allowance (an easy win). If your disability claim relies on the vocational grid guidelines, you need someone who knows what rules will help your disability claim.

Additionally, most disability applicants have had a long wait filled with financial hardship before they get their disability hearing and this often leads to emotionality that does not necessarily help you present your disability claim in an organized manner. It would probably be advisable to do all that you can to get a favorable outcome from 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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