For disabled individuals across the country, Social Security benefits are a much-needed safety net. But, whether pursuing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), many applicants face significant delays and obstacles. Wait times for Social Security Disability benefits have reached up to several years in some parts of the country. Since the application and appeals process is complex, but critically important, choosing the right representation is essential in reaching a successful outcome. With the proper advocate, you can be assured you will get the benefits you deserve, and you may even start receiving payments in a more timely fashion.
Why You Need Help
To begin with, you might wonder why you need a representative in the first place--after all, you are allowed to file for Social Security Disability benefits on your own. Yet, proceeding on your own is rarely a good idea. Even though Social Security employees are usually friendly, helpful people, they work for the government, not you as an individual. When assisting you in filling out forms, sometimes their word choices do not strengthen your claim, and they may even make official judgments about your disability status based on your physical appearance when you meet. Remember, a personal advocate is the only one in the application process who you can be certain is truly on your side.
Additionally, applying for SSDI or SSI is a long, complicated process. Even among Social Security employees, the rules of the game can be unclear. For one thing, when speaking to someone at a Social Security office, you never know whether that person has had enough on the job experience to correctly handle your problem. Perhaps more importantly, since the Social Security Disability system is broken down into so many compartments, government workers usually are only knowledgeable about their particular area, and are thus ill-equipped to guide you through a complete claim.
Picking a Representative
There are many factors to consider when searching for a Social Security Disability advocate. One is experience. A qualified advocate will know the ins and outs of all levels of the system, have extensive background training, and be able to discuss a proven track record with other clients. A focus solely on Social Security Disability claims is a good indication that a firm knows the intimate details involved in making a successful claim.
Familiarity with the appeals process is also key. Well over half of initial claims are denied; some estimates even place the denial rate as high as 80 to 90 percent. But, there is an extensive appeals process, and many applicants are eventually successful. After receiving a denial letter, there are four levels of appeal: reconsideration, a hearing before an administrative law judge, review by Social Security's Appeals Council, and finally, filing a lawsuit in federal court. As your claim moves through each stage, the ability to make effective legal arguments becomes progressively more important.
Finally, the expediency of your case should be taken into account. There is currently a huge backlog in processing social security claims; some Social Security caseworkers are assigned to handle an astonishing 5,000 to 10,000 cases at a time. This can mean painfully lengthy wait times for applicants. However, the right representative may be able to help reduce the time between filing and getting your first payment. Of course, an advocate with a well-developed set of skills in the Social Security Disability field is more likely to help you get approved early in the process. But, there are other considerations in terms of speed. Some national companies provide non-lawyer representatives to service clients across the country--this is not always the best business model. There is a significant advantage in knowing the intricacies of local Social Security offices. Wait times vary widely among different offices within the same state. Knowing where to file and having personal contacts that can help move things along are unique features of a local representative.
Hiring a Social Security Disability Attorney
For most individuals, an attorney is the ideal representative at any stage of the Social Security Disability application process. Your attorney will be a dedicated, loyal advocate, always striving to meet your goals. Many attorneys specialize exclusively in Social Security Disability claims, and know the system, the best arguments to make, and how to handle an appeal. Furthermore, attorneys are state-licensed professionals, so you know you will be getting a local representative with the knowhow to bring your case to a resolution as quickly as possible.
Applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a stressful, frustrating experience. But, the right representative can lift the weight off your shoulders, quash your anxiety, and give you the best possible chance of walking away with the benefits you deserve. If you have questions about your claim, contact a Social Security Disability attorney today.
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