Abraham Lincoln once said “He Who Represents Himself Has A Fool For A Client.”
Once in a while I encounter a person who says “Why do I need to hire someone? Why can’t I just handle it by myself?” I completely respect that you have the right to handle your own claim on your own, but there are several risks you should be aware of. Below is a list of the most common pitfalls in the Social Security Disability claims process that often cause people to be denied.
PITFALL 1 – Approximately 70% Of All Disability Applications Are Denied
Every year the Social Security Administration publishes a statistical report that discloses how many people in the United States apply for Social Security Disability benefits. In recent years the denial rate has been approximately 70%. That number used to be lower, but the government has been under pressure to deny more claims in recent years. People with spinal cord injuries or blindness often get approved at the initial level, but people with less obvious disabilities, such as back injuries or mental illness, usually get denied. Here’s an important point to remember: If you make a statement to the government that you didn’t realize you shouldn’t have said, it can be used against you later. You can’t take it back. An experienced disability advocate can file your application in a way that reduces the chance of denial and positions your case for victory if an appeal is necessary.
PITFALL 2 – If You Get Denied, The Appeals Process Usually Takes 12-18 Months
If you are one of the 70% to get that “Notice Of Disapproved Claim” in the mail, which usually explains that “your condition is not severe enough under our rules,” you only have 60 days to file the first of many appeals. The entire appeals process usually takes 12-18 months to resolve. Many people have no income during this time. If you are receiving State Disability Insurance (SDI), your payments will be exhausted after 12 months, which will leave you with no income. Many people become homeless or go bankrupt during this time due to the extreme financial hardship. An experienced disability advocate can help you either avoid this in the first place or at least navigate the appeals process in a successful way.
PITFALL 3 – The Disability Medical Examiners Are Way Over-worked And Often Skip Important Information
Exactly who are the people that will be making the decision on your claim? At the initial and Reconsideration level your medical records are evaluated by two main people. First is a Disability Analyst, who is not a doctor or nurse. These people are often young with a bachelor’s degree and a couple weeks of training. The second person is a Medical Examiner that is usually someone with an M.D. or a Ph.D. in psychology. These people are usually independent contractors that are paid a flat fee to read your medical records and then write a report explaining their decision. Because it can take a long time to actually read all of your medical records, it’s easier to simply skim through then write a recommendation of “Not Disabled” for insufficient evidence. That way they can get through more cases and bill for more flat fees per day. These people have no accountability either, because Social Security does not allow depositions or the subpoena of these people to be questioned face-to-face about why they said what they said in the report. A disability advocate can reduce the chance of denial here as well by communicating with the Disability Analyst and Medical Examiner to make sure they have seen all your medical records.
PITFALL 4 – The Administrative Law Judges Are Not Your Friend
Once you finally get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you may be surprised to learn that a Social Security judge can still deny your case even if your doctor says your disabled. Some judges are rude and believe you’re exaggerating your disability. The ALJ’s often ask very tough questions that are detailed and personal. The ALJ usually does actually read your medical records, however. If you have solid medical records with lots of testing and evidence to prove your case then that will help. But even then, many judges will still deny the case because they believe there is some job you can still do. Without knowing what to expect or how to testify in a way that is convincing, you are at a major disadvantage.
An experienced disability advocate will get access to Social Security’s file, obtain special assessments from your own doctor, write a Memorandum of Law outlining to the judge which medical records in your file support Social Security’s rules for disability, and prepare your testimony for the judge. Here’s another important point to remember: No amount of internet research or books or youtube videos will teach you how to get good at winning an Administrative Law hearing. Only real life experience truly develops winning skills at this point. At Samaritan Disability we have over 10 years of experience winning Social Security Disability hearings.
PITFALL 5 – There May Be Expert Witnesses Called To Testify Against You
This is the trickiest part and perhaps the point where it makes most sense to hire a professional to represent you. Most Social Security Disability hearings before the ALJ will involve a Vocational Expert or a Medical Expert who are called by the ALJ to testify against you. Vocational Experts are very knowledgeable about the economy and certain occupational requirements. They usually testify that you can do some job in the national economy. A Medical Expert may testify that you either do or do not satisfy Social Security’s rules. After their testimony, it’s your turn to question them. Without any experience handling such matters you can end up making your situation even worse! A second consideration is this: if you are able to put on a thoughtful and intelligent cross examination of the expert, the judge may conclude you are capable of working if you can do that. An experienced disability advocate will have his own cross-examination strategy to get these experts to admit you are disabled.
As you can see, the Social Security Disability claims process is complicated and often overwhelming. If you are truly disabled, yet too young to retire, then you can’t afford to take foolish risks with this. The fee for hiring a disability advocate is regulated by the Social Security Administration to be 25% of any past due benefits that the advocate can win for you. There is no charge if you don’t win, so you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Most of my clients explain the biggest benefit of hiring a disability advocate is the peace of mind they gain by knowing their case is being handled by someone that knows what their doing.
Call our office today at 916-246-2946 and ask for a complimentary 20 minute consultation if you are dealing with a Social Security Disability Claim. We will carefully listen to your situation, answer your questions, then tell you if we think we can help you.