Thursday, September 21, 2006

Social Security Disability Claim Advice

I received a letter from an individual who, at some point in the past, had filed for social security disability or SSI disability benefits (this wasn't clarified). What stood out about her case was that:

1. After her initial claim had been denied, she did not pursue it further.

2. She did not consider getting representation because she thought it would be a cost issue.

This is what I wrote back:

About your case, you may want to seriously consider filing a new disability application with social security and here's why. I don't know how long ago it was that you applied, but currently most states have tremendous backlogs. What this means for most people is that, if they don't get approved on their initial application, they will probably have to go at least as far as a disability hearing in front of a federal administrative law judge. And from the time you request a hearing until the time you get a hearing date, an entire year can easily go by, or longer. Actually, the entire time spent on filing an application, getting denied and filing a first appeal (called a reconsideration currently, though it may be called "review" in most states at some point), getting denied on that, requesting a hearing, and getting through a disability hearing can take 2-3 years. So, for these reasons, I would advise anyone to get a disability application started ASAP.

About having to pay a lawyer, that's something you won't have to worry about upfront. Disability Lawyers only get paid if they win your case. The charge or fee is 1/4 of whatever backpayment you get. So, if you win your case and social security owes you a twenty thousand dollar backpayment, then the lawyer gets paid $5000. If he or she doesn't win the case, there's no fee to be paid. Fees, by the way, are currently limited to $6000. Many lawyers will, however, charge for incidental expenses such as the cost of obtaining medical records and statements from your doctors--I would advise anyone to have their potential representative indicate clearly and explicity what additional fees may be charged. I can tell you from personal experience that the cost of obtaining medical records generally runs between fifty and two hundred dollars, and probably averages about $100. But, of course, I can't speak for anyone else. As I said, you should get the issue of reimbursement for fees clarified before you sign on with someone.

I should also mention that you don't have to have a lawyer at the start. You can wait until you've been denied. Some claimants will benefit from having a lawyer at the start of the process (usually due to anxiety, stress, or memory related difficulties), but most individuals can safely wait until they've actually received a notice of denial before contacting a representative. However, getting a free consultation from someone isn't a bad idea. It may help you understand the process and, potentially, may help you to avoid a mistake here or there. And, of course, if you get a good impression from that individual you may choose to use their services, now or later.

I should also say that you don't have to use a lawyer per se. There are many non attorney representatives who provide excellent representation and some of these used to work in the system as disability examiners or social security field office personnel.

Good luck on your case if you choose to apply again.

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

Other Posts

How to get disability
If you are turned down and denied for disability
Social Security Disability Questions
SSI Appeal