Social Security Disability
Most workers are required to contribute to Social Security and Medicare from their paycheck. This payroll deduction is often met with typical disgruntlement or indifference. It only when a worker becomes disabled due to an accident or illness and becomes unable to work that the importance of paying into the system is realized.
Unfortunately, disabled people often are confronted by a complicated and uncaring government bureaucracy which provides little assistance or information by which to understand the claims process. Claimants become very frustrated by the poor assistance received from Social Security Administration personnel. If you have become disabled and have not filed a claim, call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 to receive information from your local district office and information concerning making a claim. If you are unable to travel, a claim can be made over the phone. For persons with Internet access, you may wish to log on to www.ssa.gov obtain initial information. As you will discover, these government resources are quite limited. In order to obtain better assistance, you may wish to consult with counsel from the beginning. Legal assistance will always help a Claimant to a better understanding of the claims process and with gathering the necessary documentation by which to prove a claim for disability benefits.
The claims process proceeds in several steps.
- The process begins when a disabled person makes an initial claim for disability benefits. These claims are routinely denied unless the person suffers from a serious or life-threatening illness.
- Most persons will need to file a reconsideration of benefits, which, often, is subject to routine denial unless very strong evidence of a serious work disabling illness or injury is submitted for consideration.
- Following reconsideration denial, the Claimant will need to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. As with all other steps in this process, administrative delays of several to many months can occur due to inefficiency in the Social Security Administration or failure by the Claimant to comply with many application requirements. Under no circumstance should a Claimant attend a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge without assistance of skilled legal counsel. Without such assistance, a Claimant is inviting a ready denial of benefits, which can be difficult to overturn.
- Should the Claimant be unsuccessful at the hearing, appeals to the Appeals Council and/or Federal Court are available. Again, if your claim is denied at any level, you should seek the advice of an attorney. It is not uncommon for persons who have been denied several times to be subsequently approved when they receive assistance of an experienced counsel.
Many times, claim files will be incomplete due to missing medical and employment information or absent/incomplete forms. Claimants are often disturbed to learn that the Social Security Administration employs physicians who “review” files and make findings of nondisability without ever examining the Claimant (or, for that matter, ever treating patients for illnesses). In other cases, outside doctors are hired by Social Security to perform examinations. These examinations tend to be very short in duration and involve little or no testing. Even more disturbing is the chronic failure of the Social Security Administration to secure the necessary medical records documenting the treatment of a Claimant by which to conduct any meaningful claims review. Due to this poor and inefficient system of claims review, it is absolutely essential for the Claimant to submit documentation to the claim file. The assistance of a skilled lawyer cannot be underestimated in the case file development process.
Disability decisions by the Social Security Administration are based on a complicated scheme of government statutes comprising the Social Security Code which is supplemented by numerous Social Security Rulings and an extensive body of case law developed over many years. Knowledge of these volumes of codes, rulings and cases are what separate a skilled attorney from other practitioners who merely say that the engage in Social Security Disability representation. An easy way to verify a counsel’s experience is to request information concerning the practitioner’s record in federal court. This can also be verified easily by conducting a Lexis or Westlaw search under the attorney’s name. Federal practice requires a practitioner to be familiar with the emerging case law and recent changes in Social Security statutes and rulings, all of which change with surprising frequency. The skill of your advocate is essential given the importance of receiving disability benefits becomes a Claimant’s sole source of income due to disability.