If you obtain a disability representative in North Carolina at the application level, or at the reconsideration appeal level, the representative may be able to gauge the strength of your case and your chances of winning.
At the application level, your representative may get in touch with the disability examiner assigned to your case, either to clarify certain aspects of your medical records, or help focus them on certain aspects of your condition, I.e. point out your functional limitations.
At the reconsideration appeal level, your NC representative may do this as well, but also review how the initial claim decision was made, and whether or not any evidence was improperly considered, or if any evidence that should have been obtained was not obtained, or was missing from your case file.
If your case goes to the hearing level, where the decision will be made by a federal administrative law judge (most cases that are denied in NC at the initial level need to go to a hearing in order for benefits to be won), your representative, should you choose to obtain representation (and this is usually advised at a hearing) will review your entire case file to learn the following:
1. Why was the case denied?
2. Did Social Security fail to obtain all of your medical records, especially records that might have been especially helpful in proving that your case fits the definition of disability used by SSA?
3. Did the disability examiner and his medical consultant (Medical doctor attached to the examiner’s claim processing unit) properly assess the claimant’s functional capacity, otherwise known as there RFC, or residual functional capacity (defined as what the person can still do despite their condition)?
4. Did the disability examiner improperly categorize one of the jobs worked by the claimant in the past? Did the examiner mistakenly conclude that the claimant had a higher probability of finding some type of “other work” than was actually the case?
Note: Many disability cases in North Carolina are denied because Social Security, while it may conclude that a person cannot go back to a past job, will still decide that the person has enough education and skills to do some type of other work.
Therefore, consideration of the claimant’s work history is vital and the outcome of the case may hinge completely on this.
This is one area in which representation of a disability claim may provide the greatest benefit. In fact, it is very common for administrative law judges at disability hearings to have vocational experts, or VEs, appear at the hearing to provide expert testimony on the question of whether or not the claimant can go back to a past job, or whether they have the ability to switch to some type of work…that they have never done before.
A disability representative’s job in such cases will be to interact with the vocational expert and present the case in such a way that the judge will conclude that a) the claimant no longer has the ability to go back to a former job and b) that the claimant does not possess the necessary skills and training to switch to some type of other work, when taking into consideration their age, education, and current level of functional capacity.
As to whether or not you should get a disability lawyer or a non-attorney disability representative in North Carolina, the answer is simply that you should get a representative who is familiar with the following: how case decisions are actually made, how to analyze prior decisions, how to spot errors and weaknesses in the case file, what type of evidence is needed to prove a case satisfies the Social Security definition of disability, and how to establish that a case should be approved based on the rules and regulations of the system.
Whether a prospective representative is a lawyer, or a non-attorney advocate who has taken and passed the federal examination is really not the issue. The representative that is chosen should simply be an individual who fits the criteria listed above.
Such individuals typically have years of involvement with the Social Security Disability and SSI system (such as being a former disability examiner) and are therefore qualified to successfully manage and lead cases to an approval.