How will an attorney help me win disability benefits?
How will a Social Security Representative or lawyer help you win Social Security Disability or SSI benefits? The simplest answer is by preparing a case and argument that is supported by objective medical evidence and which justifies either a listing level approval or a medical vocational awarding of benefits.
However, sometimes an attorney will substantially assist your claim by making sure that all of your appeal paperwork is filed timely and correctly. A fairly large percentage of individuals who apply for Social Security Disability or SSI either do not return their appeal forms on time, or leave out information that would be helpful to winning their case.
As a a former disability examiner and as someone who has been involved in the representation of disability applicants, I can state that many cases drag on needlessly due to simple things like not returning paperwork, or not completing paperwork properly. Having representation can usually avoid these simple issues.
If you do not use a disability attorney at anytime during the initial disability claim process, or during the reconsideration appeal phase (the request for reconsideration is the first appeal), you should certainly consider getting an attorney for your disability hearing before an administrative law judge.
The disability hearing is the second level in the appeal process and, statistically speaking, it offers the best chances of approval for those individuals who were not lucky enough to be approved on their initial claim. However, success at a disability hearing often rests on sufficient case preparation and, additionally, on a skillful presentation of the case.
As to the presentation of the case at a disability hearing, very often it is difficult for a disabled individual to present their claim in a manner that is not overly emotional, which may lead to important medical evidence being missed. This is assuming, of course, that:
A) The unrepresented claimant obtained medical evidence updates and submitted this information to the judge prior to the hearing. Note: For those who are unaware, beyond the reconsideration level of the system, the responsibility for gathering medical evidence falls on the claimant and/or their lawyer.
Many claimants who go to hearings are surprised to learn, on the day of the hearing, that their case is being denied because there is no recent evidence for the judge to consider. These claimants naturally assume that the social security administration will gather their records for the hearing because that is exactly what happens during the handling of the disability application and reconsideration appeal stages.
However, at the hearing, SSA no longer does development on the case. And claimants who are not aware of this will arrive at the hearing unaware of the fact that their evidence is many months out of date and essentially useless to any hopes of winning the case.
B) The unrepresented claimant was successful in obtaining a medical source statement, supporting their case, from one of their treating physicians.
C) That the unrepresented claimant knew what to look for in the medical records in order to prove that their case either met a disability listing (in the blue book, a.k.a. the Social Security Disability impairment list), or to prove that they were disabled according to the five step sequential evaluation process that is used for a medical vocational allowance.
Most individuals who need to appear at a disability hearing at some point will simply not be aware of the various rules and regulations that can play a part in receiving a decision on a Social Security Disability or SSI claim, such as the medical vocational grid which is composed of rules that dictate a decision of "disabled" or "not disabled" based on certain factors that become apparent during the processing of a case.
An attorney who specializes in the representation of social security cases can present your claim in an organized manner that will be more favorable to your disability claim. An attorney will also work to ensure that medical evidence is gathered and submitted that improves the chances of winning benefits.
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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