Get an experienced disability lawyer, not one that makes mistakes
If you have not yet hired a disability attorney and are due to appear before a judge in a Social Security Disability hearing, then now is the time to seek legal counsel. Statistics show that those who are represented by a disability lawyer at their hearing are fifty percent more likely to win disability benefits than those claimants who represent themselves.
However, hiring an attorney does not ensure a good outcome for your case; in some cases even experienced disability lawyers will 'drop the ball,' causing your claim to be denied, and forcing you to start over again at square one.
You can increase the odds of receiving adequate representation from your disability lawyer if you watch out for the following attorney missteps:
1. Attorney is not familiar with the particulars of the case. Unfortunately, there are some disability attorneys and non attorney reps who are known for not even reading the file until the day of the hearing. No lawyer can adequately represent a disability claimant without a firm grasp of the claimant's medical condition, work history, etc. If you suspect your lawyer is not taking an interest in your case, find better representation.
2. Attorney misses deadline for filing. This is a big one'a claimant may be forced to start all over with a new disability application if a disability lawyer does not file on time. As previously stated, the process of application at the state disability agency level can take months or years, during which time you may find you are unable to work, and without benefits. Do not be afraid to call your lawyer to remind him or her of approaching deadlines.
3. Attorney submits incomplete paperwork. Your case cannot move forward until all the required forms are completed and submitted. The claims representative ( CR), the social security employee assigned to process your claim, will delay your case if forms are incomplete or are missing, and will have no choice but to contact you personally for the information.
4. Attorney does not get a residual functional capacity (RFC) statement from claimant's doctor. An RFC is a form on which a claimant's treating physician states what activities an individual is no longer able to perform as a result of their condition. Although it is true that RFC forms generated by social security are often used as the basis for rejecting disability claims, at the hearing level an RFC from your own doctor, supporting your condition, can only help your case. Make sure your attorney has an RFC from your physician on file before going to a hearing.
Remember, although an administrative law judge is statistically more likely to grant your claim for disability than your local state Social Security Disability agency, there are no guarantees, even when you have legal representation. Keep a close eye on your case, and don't be afraid to check up on your disability attorney well in advance of your "day in court".
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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