In a recent discussion, a person listed a variety of complaints about how their disability case was being handled by Social Security. The list was fairly long, not surprisingly. This individual was given the following advice by another participant in the forum. The advice was:
“Hire a disability attorney to win your disability claim if you haven’t done so. Another thing – write your US Senator to get help. There is a congressional Social Security Liason office that will also monitor your claim. Get that attorney!”
Should you do this? Should you get a disability lawyer or a disability representative? As a former North Carolina disability examiner, and as someone involved in claimant representation, here are my thoughts:
1. If you get denied for disability, either filing for SSD or filing for SSI, get a representative.
This is because once you denied on a disability application, the likelihood is very very high that you will have to go to a disability hearing at some point.
You will, of course, have to file a reconsideration appeal before the hearing appeal level, but more than 80 percent of reconsiderations are denied. Again, this is not surprising and this is really how the system has operated for at least the last 30 years. Reconsiderations, or first appeals, are hardly ever successful. That being the case, if you get denied on the initial claim, i.e. application for disability, you should go through the motions of filing a request for reconsideration knowing full well that you will probably have to file a second appeal to request a hearing.
2. If you have a hearing coming up and you are not represented, get a representative.
Point blank: it is absolutely foolish to go before a federal administrative law judge by yourself. And it is equally foolish to think that you can quickly “self-educate” yourself as to how hearings work. The hearing appeal level does not simply involve going to a hearing. That is the easy part. Most of the hearing process involves preparation in advance of the hearing…and knowing the various rules, regulations, and court rulings that can affect a claim and which can be used to win a claim.
So, should you get a representative?
By all means. And this individual can be a lawyer, or a non-attorney who is a former Social Security employee with years of experience working in different aspects of the federal disability system. In my own case, my experience is varied and extensive. I am a non-attorney disability representative in North Carolina, but I am also a former caseworker, a former disability examiner, a former disability case manager, and I have been interviewed by the New York Times for an opinion piece on the status of the Social Security Disability system.
Whoever represents you, though, you are best served if the individual specializes in Social Security administrative law. In other words, you don’t want (and can be harmed by) a “disability lawyer” who only does a handful of disability cases per year while juggling traffic court cases and personal injury claims. This type of representative is unlikely to know much about the process, even if they have been to a dozen or more hearings.
Be sure to read your fee agreement before signing it. And make sure you can speak with the representative or attorney before you become their client versus only being “handled” by the paralegal. You want to get the sense that your rep is actually accessible to you.
3. Should you contact your Congressman or Senator to help you win benefits?
Not if you have just applied for benefits. A congressman or Senator will no impact on the outcome of your case. They cannot influence the decision. However, they can help to clear long delays on your case. So, if your case has been stuck at DDS for a long time, waiting on a decision to be made, they can sometimes get the process to move faster. And if your case has been at the hearing office for what seems like forever waiting to be scheduled, they can sometimes “make this happen”, i.e. give the hearing office a push to schedule you sooner.