Using a Social Security Disability Attorney in California

Applying for SSD is a fairly straightforward process'you simply go down to your nearest social security office and fill out the application (you can also do this online for SSD, but not SSI). Your case will then be assigned to a disability examiner at the agency responsible for disability determinations in your state. In California, this is DDS, or disability determination services.

At some point you may be contacted by an examiner from the disability office, requesting clarification of your work history, medical treatment, or your ability to engage in normal daily activities.

Who needs representation on a disability claim in California? Approximately 70 percent of all claims are denied nationwide at the application level. California mirrors these statistics with a 31 percent rate of approval. Arguably, these individuals will probably require representation since the likelihood is extremely high that they will need to attend a disability hearing in order to be approved.

However, many individuals will benefit from representation from the very start. While some claimants are perfectly capable of gathering the necessary information and presenting it in an organized, understandable format for the examiner, some may need additional help in this process, particularly if they are heavily medicated, have memory difficulties, are suffering from depression or anxiety, are in chronic pain, or are mentally impaired.

For these people, it is well worth it to retain either a disability lawyer or a non-attorney disability representative to assist them with their claim.

Additionally, a representative can help to focus a disability claim on the more important aspects of a claimant's cumulative medical record and avoid an inadvertent weaking of the case before it gets to the hearing level. In some cases, the case may be won early in the process, avoiding the need for a hearing.

If your Social Security Disability claim is denied at the application level (and most are), and denied again upon reconsideration, you should seek professional legal counsel from a disability attorney or non-attorney claimant's representative.

This is because the next step for a claimant is to appear at a disability hearing before an ALJ, or administrative law judge. An attorney can help you make a stronger case before a judge by providing the expertise needed to:

1. Gather medical evidence. A disability attorney will know exactly what medical records are needed to support a claim, or to establish proof of a claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC). An RFC form, or medical source statement, from a physician corroborating your disability, i.e. the functional limitations that make you disabled, greatly increases your chance of approval before an administrative judge.

2. Present your condition in a way that best enhances your chances of receiving disability benefits. A disability attorney will know what impairments are listed in the social security list of impairments manual (the 'blue book'), as well as what symptoms or limitations must be demonstrated to support diagnosis with one of these conditions.

3. If your condition is not listed in the blue book, then your attorney will also be familiar with the criteria necessary to show that a medical vocational allowance is warranted. A medical vocational allowance is awarded for disabilities that, while not listed in the blue book, prevent claimants from performing their current job or any other job for which they may otherwise be suited.)

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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