Reasons to get a representative who specializes in disability claims only

A lawyer who handles Social Security Disability and SSI disability claims can certainly make a difference in the decisional outcome of a case. And, typically, the greatest benefits from representation will occur at the Social Security Disability hearing.

Having said that, however, it is still worth noting that some disability representatives employ habits and practices that are not entirely helpful when it comes to the outcome of a case. And, more often than not, these practices occur on the part of disability representatives who do not specialize solely in Social Security Disability and SSI, but rather only do occasional cases here and there while also working in other areas of law. The reality is that Social Security Disability and SSI disability claims are demanding with regard to the depth and breadth of information that a representative should know.

Here's a short list of those less-than-helpful practices.

1. Some representatives turn in disability forms that are not completed and submit applications with missing paperwork. What is the result of this? The result is that the Social Security claims representative or claims specialist (not to be confused with a claimant's representative such as a disability lawyer) will need to contact the claimant to obtain the needed paperwork. This, of course, consumes valuable time and promotes delays which are not helpful to a claimant's case.

2. Some disability representatives may disadvantage their clients by filing Social Security Disability appeals untimely. When this happens (when a claimant misses an appeal deadline), a claimant may be forced to start over with a new disability application. Obviously, this can results in months of lost and valuable time, during which a claimant's financial situation can become considerably worse.

3. Some disability attorneys fail to thoroughly read a claimant's disability file before a disability hearing with an administrative law judge takes place. In fact, in every hearing office jurisdiction, there may be one or more attorneys who have the distinction of not reading files until the very day of a hearing. This type of slipshod preparation clearly disadvantages the claimant who has waited, perhaps, up to two years, for their "chance" to win their disability benefits at a hearing.

4. Some disability lawyers fail to get an RFC from a claimant's treating physician. What is an RFC and why is it important? An RFC form is a form on which a doctor may indicate the functional limitations and restrictions which a claimant has as a result of their condition, or conditions. In fact, RFC stands for residual functional capacity. RFC forms are used by social security at the intial claim and reconsideration levels by doctors who work for social security.

However, in most cases, RFC forms that are used by social security are used to turn down disability claims. Despite this fact, though, an RFC form that is completed by a claimant's treating physician, and which is presented to a judge at a hearing, can provide a strong basis for an approval of a disability case. For this reason, a disability representative should always strive to obtain a completed RFC form from a claimant's doctors (treating physicians). And attorneys who do not do this needlessly disadvantage their clients.

In short, many disability claims are disadvantaged due to shoddy preparations made by their representatives. Take a proactive role in your disability claim, by questioning the methods your representative uses, particulary if your claim is headed to the hearing level. And be sure to inquire whether or not the person who might handle your case really does specialize in disability claims, or just simply dabbles now and then. It can make a significant difference in their level of competence.

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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