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What may be most frustrating about applying for Social Security Disability benefits is process itself. Those who apply are often made to feel like they are asking for something that they do not deserve, and nothing could be further from truth. Social Security Disability is not a welfare program; these benefits are paid for by you and were intended to act as a financial buffer in case you or a family member became seriously ill or injured. Therefore if you are unable to work, but you have been denied benefits, you should appeal.
DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY? You have right to have an Attorney represent you in your Social Security Disability case. Statistics have shown that claimants represented by Attorneys have been much more successful than people without representation. You should seriously consider advantages of having an Attorny represent you by examining what an Attorney would do in your Social Security Disability case.
WHAT WOULD MY ATTORNEY DO TO REPRESENT ME IN MY SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CASE? Every case is different. Your Attorney's role depends on particular facts of your case. However, a few of things an Attorney may do are: Gather medical and other evidence Analyze your case under Social Security Regulations Contact your doctor and explain Social Security Regulations to obtain a report consistent with those regulations Obtain documents from your Social Security Disability file Ask that a prior application for benefits be reopened Advise you how to best prepare yourself to testify at your hearing Protect your right to a fair hearing by objecting to improper evidence and procedures If you win, make sure that Social Security Administration correctly calculates your benefits If you lose, request review of hearing decision by Social Security Administration's Appeals Council If necessary, represent you in a Federal Court review of your case
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY? Most Attorneys who handle Social Security Disability cases will accept them on a contingent fee basis of 25% of past-due benefit or $5,300 whichever is less. That is, there is no fee if you lose, although you will be obligated to pay any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Attorny in your representation. Such expenses usually involve charges for photocopying and payments to doctors and hospitals for medical records and reports, and other miscellaneous charges. Total expenses usually are less than $100.
WHEN SHOULD I CONTACT AN ATTORNEY? As soon as possible, preferably as soon as your inital application is denied. An Attorney will then be able to start assisting you in determining if you are disabled, as that term is defined by Social Security Act. You will then be able to decide whether or not you want to pursue first appeal stage--Reconsideration; and your Attorney can begin developing ways to prove to Social Security Administration that you are disabled.
Attorneys in Social Security Disability cases do much more than sit in at a hearing and ask a few questions. Much pre-hearing preparation, analysis and evidence gathering go into adequate representation for your case. For this reason you should not wait until a week or two before your hearing to contact an Attorney. The earlier an Attorney is able to start working on your case, better your chances of winning.
Please note that not all Attorneys practice before Social Security Administration. You will do best to find an Attorney familiar with complex Social Security Disability regulations and somewhat unusual Social Security Disability procedures.
Sheri R. Abrams is an Attorney who practices Social Security Disability Law in Virginia, DC and Maryland. Ms. Abrams is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School and the Boston University School of Management.