If you can't work any longer because of a medical condition or impairment -- physical or mental -- you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.
You can go it alone, and apply for benefits on your own. But should you?
In a word, no.
Being eligible for benefits is one thing. Obtaining those benefits is quite another. And having an attorney in your corner can mean the difference between a secure financial future... or not.
It's said that up to two-thirds of applications are initially denied. While the process can be completed without a lawyer, having an attorney can dramatically improve your chances of obtaining benefits. Statistics indicate that claimants who have legal representation are more likely to win benefits that those who do not.
Should your case be denied, you'll either have to re-file or file an appeal. An appeal typically will involve a Social Security Disability hearing before an administrative law judge. And would you go to any other kind of legal hearing without representation?
How can having a lawyer for my (SSD) help? Here are a several ways:
• SSD cases are complex and time-consuming and can be overwhelming. They involve not only the question of eligibility but also medical records, work and medical histories, plus strict deadlines and hundreds of pages of regulations and court opinions. Applicants can find the process confusing, and one mistake or missed deadline can mean denial. Given the complexity of these cases, an experienced attorney means experienced help navigating the system.
• The government will not protect your rights as an attorney will.
• An attorney helps at all stages of the process, from advice on the best way to apply, to hearings, through appeals.
• A lawyer can determine if you are eligible for SSD or SSI benefits.
• A lawyer will handle all the paperwork, including requesting, collecting and assembling the necessary medical records.
• An attorney will deal with your doctor or medical provider, to obtain the information necessary to prove your disability.
• With thorough knowledge of the process and rules governing SSD/SSI, an attorney will cull through the evidence and present your case in the light most favorable to you.
• An attorney will speak to the Social Security Administration (also known as the SSA) on your behalf.
• An attorney will prepare you for any hearings and speak to the Social Security Administration on your behalf.
• A lawyer will meet all deadlines and ensure that all documents and forms are submitted on time and in the proper form.
• A lawyer will represent you and speak on your behalf in any legal hearings and proceedings. He will cross-examine medical experts and any other witnesses or personnel called by the judge.
• An attorney will appeal an unfavorable decision from the Social Security Administration, including examining the denial and any contributing factors, plus addressing the cause of the denial and providing the information that will be needed for the appeal.
And there's no upfront fee to pay, important for those who have no paycheck coming in. The Social Security Administration pays the attorney from an applicants' retroactive benefits. The fee is 25 percent of the benefits, up to $6,000. Be wary of an attorney who does not offer a free consultation in a Social Security Disability (or SSI) case; most lawyers who concentrate in these cases provide free consultations to explore eligibility as a matter of common practice.
An attorney can help even BEFORE you start the process. Call a lawyer before you apply. Your chances of success increase dramatically.
About the author: Neil H. Good is an attorney whose practice (in the Chicago area and Las Vegas) concentrates on Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits cases. He knows you should not go into this complicated process alone and shouldn't trust your case to just any attorney; you need an experienced advocate in your corner.
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