Tuesday, February 12, 2008

South Carolina Social Security Disability Attorney Offers Advice for Claimants

Having practiced law for almost fifteen years and handled hundreds of Social Security Disability cases, I still am amazed by the fact that on almost every case I handle, I learn something (or at least am reminded of an important lesson). There is no such thing as a “routine” case.

Sometimes, the knowledge comes in the form of a new condition that I have not previously encountered. Sometimes, it is a new diagnostic or treatment method for a more common disabling condition. Sometimes, there is a new procedural process to maneuver. Sometimes, we encounter a situation over which we have no control, but which serves as a reminder to everyone else. I hope to make periodic contributions to this great website, in which I provide a brief case study and a few lessons to be learned.

Client E is a man in his mid to late 50s. In his early 50s, he suffered an on-the job-injury, seriously and permanently injuring his back. Client E initially applied for Social Security Disability in 2004, alleging he had become disabled in 2003 when his back was originally injured. As frequently happens, Client E was initially denied. Client E did not seek legal representation and did not appeal.

In 2006, Client E made another application for Social Security Disability, again alleging he had become disabled in 2003 when his back was originally injured. He was again denied, but this time he came to me for representation. We filed his Request for Reconsideration (the first level of appeal). Upon receipt of the denial of this appeal, we filed a Request for Hearing before a Federal Administrative Law Judge.

A month after filing the Request for Hearing, we submitted a letter requesting the case be reviewed for approval on the record (without the need for a hearing). Ultimately, we received a telephone call from the hearing office, advising the case could be approved without a hearing, but, we would have to amend our alleged onset date to the day after his initial denial on the 2004 claim, instead of the 2003 date. In other words, his 2004claim would not be re-opened.

At first blush, Client E would appear to be giving up a year’s worth of back benefits (2003 to 2004); however, because Client E did not make his application on the second Disability claim until 2006, and since Disability benefits can only be paid a year prior to the application (roughly), Client E was actually being asked to give up two year’s worth of back benefits (2003 to 2005).

Understand, we did not have to agree to this. We could have declined and then waited for a hearing. I thoroughly discussed the advantages and disadvantages with my client. The value of the back benefits probably totaled over $40,000. This is certainly a significant sum of money.

On the other hand, there is the approximately year and a half wait time for a hearing in our area. Client E was already in a precarious financial position. This wait could have resulted in complete financial ruin. Also, Client E could have died prior to the hearing. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the hearing judge would have approved re-opening the old file and finding Client E disabled all the way back to 2003. In fact, there is even the chance the hearing judge could have denied the claim completely.

Ultimately, Client E chose the “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” option and we agreed to amend the alleged onset date. Client E’s failure to appeal and/or immediately file a new claim cost him about $40,000.

The lesson to be learned:

1. Get experienced, knowledgeable legal representation.

2. Appeal the denial of an initial application or reconsideration request.

3. Even if you do not appeal for some reason, then at least file your new claim as quickly as possible.

If you live in the Southeastern United States and have a Social Security Disability or SSI claim for which you need legal representation, please contact us for a free consultation regarding your case.

Social Security Disability cases are handled on a contingency fee basis.

Samuel H. Jefcoat
Attorney at Law, LLC

How to contact if you need representation in South Carolina

1501 Main Street
Post Office Box 397
Newberry, South Carolina 29108

Phone: 803-321-2321
Fax: 803-321-3991

E-Mail: Sam@SamJefcoat.com
Web: www.SamJefcoat.Com