Hiring a Qualified Disability Lawyer in Colorado
Claimants who have representation in Colorado have a higher percentage likelihood of being approved, often need to file fewer appeals, and very often have more favorable "dates of onset" (the date the disability is proven to have begun) which is especially important since it can result in higher back pay amounts.
Representation may be through a disability lawyer or a specialized non-attorney disability representative. Many non-attorney reps are former Social Security Administration Claims Specialists and Disability Examiners.
A qualified representative will have a knowledge of Social Security administrative law and procedures, especially with regard to how claims are approved through the Social Security listings and the medical vocational grid rules. A qualified and competent representative or lawyer will also be skilled in the ability to obtain the most relevant case evidence, analyze it correctly, and incorporate it as part of a winning strategy for a claim.
Representatives win claims by proving that the claimant has a specific condition that meets the SSA definition of disability, or by proving that the claimant has physical or mental functional limitations resulting from one or or more medically diagnosed conditions.
To learn about fees for representation, see: "How do disability lawyers get paid?"
It can be difficult to win disability benefits in Colorado. In recent years, less than a third (about 26%) of all claims for Social Security Disability (SSD) and supplemental security income (SSI) that are filed in Colorado have been approved by the state disability determination services agency (DDS performs determinations for the Social Security Administration at the first two levels of the system).
Even fewer appeals of denials at the disability application level were won. Mirroring most states, approximately 80% of all first appeals, or requests for reconsideration, to the Colorado disability determination services agency (requests for reconsideration) were unsuccessful as well.
Having said that, if you have been enied disability benefits and your first appeal didn't work out, you can appeal again. This second appeal, however, will not be decided by the state disability examiner, but will instead involve a hearing before a federal administrative law judge. Statistically this is the best chance to win SSD or SSI benefits in Colorado, especially if you are represented by a disability attorney or a non-attorney disability representative.
Disability claimants in Colorado are typically 50% more likely to prevail before a judge when they are represented by an attorney than when they represent themselves. Perhaps this points in some measure to a bias on the part of judges, in that they give more credence to a claim when it is presented by a professional legal representative.
It is more likely, however, that a good disability lawyer or representative can help to craft a stronger case than you would be able to put together on your own. Few, if any claimants will know which regulations (from title 20 of the code of federal regulations), which SSRs (social security rulings), and which medical vocational grid rules will pertain to a case based on the medical and vocational evidentiary aspects of the case.
Moreover, few claimants will be able to analyze why an individual's claim was previously denied, mistakenly or not, and what types of evidence need to be brought to the attention of a disability examiner or judge in order win an allowance for a claim.
In fact, given the low rate of approval for SSD and SSI cases filed in Colorado, many claimants may want to consider consulting a disability representative or attorney even earlier in the case, if not at the outset, as opposed to after the initial application has been turned down. In some cases, a representative will able to provide advice or assistance that reduces the amount of time spent on a case.
In other instances, a representative who is proactive may be able to win a case at the disability application or reconsideration appeal level without the need for a disability hearing--simply requesting a hearing can easily add an additional year of waiting to a case.
A disability lawyer or disability representative may also be able to help point out weaknesses in your initial claim, and direct you to either supply other useful documentation or to take additional tests needed to prove your disability.
Other advantages to getting an attorney or representative at this point include the fact that, once the social security administration has been notified that an attorney is representing you, they will automatically forward all updates and notices pertaining to your case to your representative. This is a useful safeguard, especially when it comes to filing a notice to appeal (appeals must be received within 60 days of your denial, and if you miss this deadline you have to start all over again, adding months to what is already a lengthy determination process).
One thing is for certain: If the Colorado disability determination services agency denies your initial claim, it is highly unlikely that you will win disability benefits from a reconsideration appeal, and at this point you should be planning to at least consult for representation services.
In Colorado, getting someone involved in your case can have a big impact on the outcome, and you should ensure that you are ready to present the strongest possible argument to win disability benefits at a hearing before a federal judge, if one is required.
Note: The request for reconsideration appeal step is currently suspended in the state of Colorado as Colorado is one of 10 prototype states testing a system in which denied claims move immediately to the hearing level upon appeal. Reconsideration may be reinstated at some point and many consider this likely. In the meantime, a claimant who is denied on a disability application should request, and prepare, for a hearing before a federal administrative law judge.
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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