Do I Really Need a Lawyer to File a Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

From the desk of John P. Luhr

Attorneys handling Social Security Disability claims will often interview a client who refers to a previous or currently pending claim and says they do not think they needed an attorney to file or help them pursue their claim. In fact, sometimes friends or relatives and even the Social Security Administration say it is not necessary. While anyone can file a Social Security Disability claim either in person, via telephone or online, the rules for eligibility and required proof plus the financial consequences that are at stake make it advisable to contact an attorney even before you have filed for Social Security Disability.

Before you even file, an attorney can advise you if you are likely to be eligible based on your age, work experience and physical and mental impairments. Many people believe that if they can no longer do their previous job, they are eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Many people also believe that because they see themselves as being disabled, the Social Security Administration should recognize this as well. The Social Security Administration also usually states that they will collect all of the medical records and proof necessary to decide the initial claim. Although Social Security does send a medical records request to any doctors, hospitals and health care providers you identify, they will not follow up on those requests nor obtain any opinions or extra more convincing evidence from your physicians. With an attorney helping you even with the initial application, the attorney and their staff can help you collect all of the medical information available and make sure it is in the Social Security Disability file.

When filing an application, there are many other important concepts to consider. You must identify the last date of your eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits (“date last insured”); you must properly identify the correct and most proper onset date of disability, that is, the date when you could no longer work. This could be either the day after the last date you worked or some other date when a medical test or doctor’s report shows clearly that you can no longer work.

Many attorneys will suggest that you, as a potential claimant, simply make an application on your own and if you are denied, come see them. At our office, things are handled differently. If we believe you have a valid claim on discussing the matter with you via telephone, we have a lengthy (two hours or more) initial consultation. At this initial consultation, we will assist you in filing an online application. We also help you identify all of your past work history, doctors and treatment providers and make arrangements to secure those records independently as necessary so that they can be placed in your Social Security Disability file. After a period of two to four months from the time you applied, a decision will be made. Many individuals we have interviewed who did not use our office or another in the initial application received their denial letter and are surprised to see that much of the information that should have been available and considered was not even obtained by the Social Security Administration because their doctors did not send the records and Social Security did not follow up on the request.

Another reason it is best to have an attorney when you file for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income is that if you are denied, you must file an appeal within sixty (60) days. Once that appeal is filed, it can take eighteen (18) months to two (2) years and sometimes even longer to have a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. During this time, no benefits are paid to you. In many cases if you were represented from the time of the application and all of the information was available, a favorable decision could have been made based on a properly documented application.

A further reason it makes sense to have an attorney assist you in filing for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits is attorneys can represent you on an approved contingency basis. The typical fee arrangement does not require you to pay an attorney any money upfront. At our office if it appears you have a valid claim, we will assist you pursuant to an approved fee agreement whereby if you are approved for benefits, seventy-five percent (75%) of the past due benefits are paid to you and twenty-five percent (25%) of the past due benefits (up to a maximum of $6,000.00) is paid directly to the attorney.

Although the attorney is paid a fee, it does not cost you money upfront to utilize an attorney in making your application or in filing an appeal of an application which has been denied. The attorney can assist you in properly filing and documenting your claim to give you the best chance of success on the initial application or in any subsequent appeal if you are denied. It does not cost more to have an attorney help you from the time of the initial application so it is essentially a “nothing to lose and much to gain” situation.

If you are filing a disability claim in the Buffalo and Western New York area, we welcome you to call for a phone consultation directly with an attorney who will handle your case.