Is there a requirement to have a lawyer at a disability hearing?

Are Social Security Disability Hearings a Rigged Scam? Someone wrote recently the following (paraphrased): "Social security denies nearly everyone the first time, and this is due to a scam involving the judges who used to be practicing disability lawyers, as the lawyers support each other. This forces you to get a lawyer in order to win".

Is there any truth to this? Not a bit, and it reflects a complete misunderstanding of how the Social Security Disability and SSI disability system (which is the same system) works.

When a person first files for disability, they do the following:

1. They usually contact a local social security office to set up an appointment to be interviewed.

2. The purpose of the interview is NOT to determine if the individual is disabled, but, rather, to get the disability application ready to be sent to where the claim will be worked on and decided. Where is that? At a state-level DDS, or disability determination services, agency. It is at a DDS that the claim will be assigned to a disability examiner who will gather the medical records, evaluate those records and the claimant's work history (the academic history if the claimant is a child) in order to arrive at a decision on the claim.

From reading number 2, it should be obvious that judges are not in any way involved in the decisional process at the disability application level. And judges are, furthermore, not involved in decisions at the next step of the system, which is the reconsideration appeal level. That level also involves a disability examiner who will, as with the first level, review the claimant's medical and work history (and possibly academic history if the claimant is a child, or an adult with mental impairment issues) in order to make a decision on the claim.

Disability judges only come into the process at the disability hearing level and the hearings are anything but rigged or scammy. In fact, they offer claimants who have been previously denied their best chance of winning benefits. At the disability application level, where examiners make decisions, about seven out of every ten claims are denied. At the hearing level, where judges make decisions, at least half of all claims are approved and this figure rises to better than sixty percent for claimants who have representation.

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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