Hiring a Qualified Disability Lawyer in Minnesota
Individuals with disability claims in Minnesota who are represented tend to have higher rates of approval, need fewer appeals, and acheive more favorable "dates of onset" (the date the disability is proven to have begun) which may to higher back pay benefits.
Representation may be provided 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 with an extended history of working from within the federal system.
A qualified disability representative will have a knowledge of Social Security administrative law, particularly with regard to how claims are approved through the Social Security listings and the medical vocational grid rules. A qualified and competent disability 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.
To learn about fees for representation, see: "How do disability lawyers get paid?"
If you are filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) or SSI benefits in Minnesota, the good news is that you are statistically more likely to win benefits than applicants in most other states: more than 40% of all disability applicants in Minnesota are approved by the Minnesota disability determination services (DDS is the state-level agency that makes disability determinations for the Social Security Administration on title II SSD and title 16 SSI disability claims).
This, of course, still means that the majority of applicants will be denied on their initial claim, forcing them to either give up on their claim, file a brand new claim, or enter the appeals process.
Note: in very few circumstances will it be beneficial for a claimant to start with a brand new claim. This is true for a variety of reasons but a very compelling one is that starting with a new claim and application date--essentially giving up one's appeal rights--can have the effect of losing eligiblity for months of disability back pay benefits. In nearly all cases, it will be to the claimant's benefit to file an appeal.
If your case is denied at the initial claim, or aplication level, the first appeal will be a request for reconsideration. According to recent statistics, the chances of being awarded benefits at the reconsideration level were less than 20 percent, or 18.8 % to be exact.
These figures are better than the national average; however, the fact remains that Social Security Disability applicants in Minnesota will generally be denied at the disability application and reconsideration appeal levels, necessitating the need to file the second appeal: a request for hearing before an administrative law judge.
An ALJ hearing typically offers claimants the greatest opportunity for being approved. In Minnesota, approximately 55 percent of all hearings are approved by judges. The percentage of cases won, however, increases when representation is involved on a claim. This is due to several reasons, perhaps the most important being that a representative--a disability lawyer or non-attorney disability representative--will engage in the proper preparation for a hearing.
Proper preparation will include the following:
1. Reviewing the case file -- This is to see why the claim was previously denied, what the basis for prior decisions was, whether or not the initial claim or reconsideration-level disability examiner made an error in deciding the case, and whether or not medical or vocational evidence was considered properly, or not considered at all.
2. Gathering updated medical evidence - This is done because, although the Social Security Administration will gather medical records for a claimant's case at the first two levels of the system, SSA will not do any case development once the case proceeds to the hearing level. At that point, case development becomes the sole responsibility of the claimant, or their disability attorney or representative.
Obtaining the proper medical evidence is crucial at all levels of the disability evaluation system. However, it is particularly important at the hearing level since a claimant will be allowed to interact with the decision-maker on their claim (the administrative law judge) and present a rationale for the case being approved.
A disability attorney or non-attorney will attempt to obtain a) recent evidence (for a claimant to be approved for monthly ongoing benefits, they must present medical evidence that confirms that they are currently disabled), b) older evidence that establishes when the individual became disabled, and c) evidence that illustrates the severity of the individual's functional limitations.
Most disability lawyers and non-attorney disability representatives in Minnesota will also attempt to obtain an objective supporting statement from one of the claimant's treating physicians, defined by SSA as a medical doctor who has a history of providing treatment to the claimant and, therefore, is qualified to issue a statement concerning their prognosis and limitations (which translates into their ability or inability to work).
Should a disability lawyer or representative be obtained only for a hearing, or for earlier levels on a disability claim? There is no standard rule as to when a representative should be sought. However, it makes sense to consider representation after the first denial because a second denial usually occurs and that leads to a disability hearing. Appearing before a federal disability judge unrepresented is seldom a good idea and generally handicaps a claim, often significantly since most claimants will be unfamiliar with Social Security administrative law and procedure.
As to whether or not early representation on a claim in Minnesota should be sought, many claimants will benefit when their chosen attorney or representative is able to win the case at the disability application or reconsideration appeal level, thus eliminating the need for a hearing. This can save many months of case processing time that would ordinarily be consumed simply waiting for a hearing to be scheduled, which, needless to say, can be financially devastating for most disability claimants who have no available source of income.
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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