Do I need an Attorney to get Social Security Disability Benefits?

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I question that I have been asked many times by a prospective client, "Do I need an attorney to get disability benefits?" I always laugh and answer, " You do realize you are asking an attorney this question?"

Talking with the client the question doesn't really mean, "Do I need representation" but "I want to recover as much as possible and I think I can do so without an attorney , if I get just a little information".

Seriously, the manner in which the payment of the fees of an attorney is handled under the social security disability system, there is little or no cost to a claimant. In most cases unless claimant wins and is awarded past due benefits, there are no fees charged by the attorney. You increase your chances of winning. You can retain a very experienced attorney (for the same price as a attorney starting out). You have a advocate who can represent your interests and answer your questions as the process proceeds.

Many clients have no real idea of the difficulties that the system can put in the way of getting disability benefits, and many believe getting disability benefits is a right-- "Well, I can't do my past job that I have worked for 20, 30 etc years. I paid in benefits all those years, I now have a earned right to those benefits to support my family." This is a basis for many clients original questioning the need for an attorney.

I than do my best to explain that the disability system is not the same as unemployment. It requires that a claimant be so impaired that s/he unable to work any job. Like it or not there may be other jobs out there that are within your functional capacity even though the jobs are such you would never voluntarily pursue to-wit: feather cutter, bench assembly.

Even though there is some cost to hiring an attorney (if you win) you increase your chance of obtaining benefits, over representing yourself for several reasons:

  • An experienced attorney has the knowledge to help you develop your medical evidence. It is important that all relevant medical evidence get into your file. Many times the unrepresented claimant gets to hearing, and learns too late that his file does not in fact contain valuable evidence, because he never requested copies, forgot to tell social security about the evidence, or it was requested and no records showed up, because no one followed up on the request.

  • Having been through the process, an attorney has knowledge concerning how to answer questions that are asked in the forms and in person, so that the limitations placed on the claimant by his impairment are clearly set forth. Many times answers such as "I grocery shop. I clean my apartment. I make meals." etc. can come back to haunt the claimant, simply because a detailed explanation of how difficult it is to do the chores was never made clear.

  • If the case makes it to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, there will be a vocational expert present to present evidence on the possible jobs available to someone with claimant's residual functional capacity, the abilities the claimant still possess notwithstanding his limitation posed by his impairment. An attorney has the opportunity to ask questions of the vocational expert, which can raise doubt as to the validity of the vocational expert's testimony concerning job that the claimant might be able to do. The attorney can ask questions adding facts to the hypothetical question posed by the judge. Many times the VE may state with these facts the claimant would be unable to perform any jobs at all. Without an attorney, it is extremely difficult for a claimant to do this successfully

  • An experienced attorney can help the claimant prepare for each step in the process of trying to win benefits. A claimant may have additional problems which may not have been included but can be very important to the claimant's case. Many applicants fail to report every disability (especially in the case of a mental impairment), and an attorney can make sure that all relevant impairments are considered to ensure a higher chance of benefits being granted.

I have had the experience of having a prospective client, go on his own, only to return months later with a decision from and ALJ denying benefits. A review of the record, shows it so damaged that there is really no help I can provide, except in the appropriate case, convince the claimant to file a new application, while s/hs still qualifies for paid benefits. Any appeal is based upon the record established at the hearing. It is very difficult to rescue a case that has not made a good presentation before the judge.

All trials are a learning process. Hire an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. The decision will substantially increase your chance of winning over going on your own??

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