Can you win your Disability Case by Yourself?
It is certainly possible to win a Social Security Disability or SSI disability case by yourself, without the involvement of representation. There are many individuals who have been able to accomplish this for claims that have been decided at the disability application, request for reconsideration (the first appeal), and ALJ (administrative law judge) disability hearing levels.
However, having said this, it should be pointed out that many claimants simply will not require representation at the first two levels of the system. At the disability application level, nearly thirty percent of claims are approved whether representation is involved or not.
The claimant who decides to file a claim without representation can help his or her case by providing the social security administration with the information that is needed to process the claim: in most cases, this is simply accurate and detailed information regarding their work history and medical treatment history.
Specifically, if the disability examiner (the specialist who makes the decision on the claim if it is pending at the disability application level or reconsideration appeal level) requires more information from the claimant regarding their prior jobs, or treatment providers, or their ability to engage in ADLs (activities of daily living), the claimant should endeavor to facilitate this by promptly returning the examiner's phone call, or, if it applies, returning whatever questionaire forms the examiner may have mailed out (often, the examiner will send out a questionaire regarding the claimant's daily activities or work history).
Additionally, if the disability examiner schedules the claimant for a CE, or a consultative examination, the claimant should go to the scheduled examination appointment on time, be candid and truthful with the examining physician regarding their complaints, and give their best effort during the examination if it involves testing of any kind (such as, for example, IQ testing).
Note: A CE is a physical or mental examination that is conducted by an independent physician who provides a report of the examination's findings to the social security administration; this type of exam is usually scheduled to A) provide medical information that is recent if the claimant has not been seen by a doctor in the last 90 days or B) provide medical record documentation about a condition for which the claimant may allege to have but has never received treatment for, such as depression or anxiety or lower back pain.
The corollary to all of this, of course, is that while close to a third of initial claims will be approved, roughly seventy percent of initial claims will be denied, thus making it necessary for a claimant who wishes to be approved to A) File a request for reconsideration and, mostly likely, B) File a request for a disability hearing (we say "most likely" because the vast majority of reconsideration appeals--more than eighty percent, in fact--are usually denied).
At a disability hearing, however, a claimant would, without question, handicap their case by going it alone. Presenting a case to a federal administrative law judge involves a level of preparation that most claimants would be unfamiliar with. Case presentation at the hearing level does not only involve gathering updated medical records and statements from one's treating physician or physicians, but also having substantial familiarity with the history of the case, i.e. why the claim was previously denied.
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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