Should you get someone to help you with your Social Security Disability or SSI claim?

When it comes to filing for disability benefits with the social security administration, you should do the following.

1. Learn how the disability process and system works.

2. Don't utilize the services of social agencies (such as a department of social services) to assist you will applying for disability.

3. Immediately apply for disability.

Number three, of course, should be a given if an individual has a mental or physical impairment (or several impairments, which is often the case) and the impairment makes it either impossible to work or has the effect of significantly reducing the ability to work and earn a sustainable wage. And the keyword in that sentence should be "immediately".

Simply put, disability cases take a long time to process and more cases are denied at the application level than approved, thus, making it necessary to file appeals. And the appeal process for Social Security Disability and SSI can be very long, indeed.

Number one is simply good advice. A claimant should learn how the system works, both to reduce the probability of making a mistake on a claim and for this one reason: social security offices typically do a poor job of explaining how the system works to individuals who are filing for disability or already have a pending claim. And this is probably the reason why so many claimants do the following: file brand new applications after they have been denied (when they should have filed an appeal instead).

Number two on this list, however, is also a good point of advice and this is something I can speak with authority on. I am a former disability claims examiner for social security. And in that capacity, I made decisions on SSD and SSI disability cases.

However, I have also been a social services caseworker in a number of programs, including medicaid. And in caseworker roles, I knew nothing practically about the Social Security Disability and SSI disability system. In fact, it would be difficult to find anyone (caseworker or social worker) at a department of social services who knows anything about the federal disability programs. Why is that? The answer is simple. Its not their job to know.

Should you get someone to help you with your Social Security Disability or SSI claim?

If you have a friend, neighbor, or relative who has been through the process, you might want to solicit their advice. And, in some cases, if a social services organization offers you assistance in getting a disability claim initiated (such as providing transportation to a social security office for an interview, or setting up an appointment to file an application), then you may wish to take advantage of this.

However, when it comes to case preparation, particularly involving appeals, and especially involving disability hearings, you should probably obtain the assistance of an individual who is thoroughly familiar with how the system works. And if you are at a point where you consider it necessary to obtain representation on your claim, you should make sure the representative you eventually choose (a disability attorney or non-attorney representative) specializes in Social Security Disability and SSI cases.

Why? Because you don't want a generalist who only represents a handful of these cases each. What you want, and will benefit from, is a specialist who does nothing but represent SSD and SSI cases (and, as a result, is intimately familiar with such cases, and is also familiar with the judges at hearing office for your area's jurisdication).

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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