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Going to a Disability Hearing Alone is Risky

Author: Carol Duncan

Published: 2009-01-09 : (Rev. 2010-07-11)

Synopsis and Key Points:

When a vocational expert or VE is present it is critical a disability attorney present your social security disability case.

Main Digest

A claim for social security disability (SSD) or SSI is approved or denied at one of three levels.

First, a claim is evaluated by a disability examiner for the social security office, who may approve, but will most likely deny the claim; then the claimant can file for request for reconsideration (even more likely to be denied); and finally, the claimant can request that his or her case be heard before an administrative law judge (ALJ), where the claim has the best odds of being granted.

At the first two levels, when dealing directly with the state disability agency, many claimants choose to forgo legal counsel. This saves the claimant legal fees, and in any event it can be difficult to get a disability lawyer to represent you at this stage-many attorneys will not take on a case until the initial claim and request for reconsideration have been denied.

However, when your case comes before a judge, it is well worth the cost to have a disability lawyer at your side. Experienced legal counsel can help present your medical evidence in such a way that both supports your claim of disability and follows the guidelines of SSA rules and regulations.

In the event that the ALJ decides to have a vocational expert (VE) present at your hearing, you will most certainly need a seasoned disability lawyer at your side. This is because the sole purpose of a vocational expert is to provide the judge with a list of jobs available in the national economy that someone with your qualifications should be able to perform, despite your current medical condition. To put it simply, the VE will discuss your limitations; i.e., whether you can bend, lift, sit for extended periods of time, etc., then tell the court that despite your difficulties you can still work, and then give examples of the types of jobs out there you can perform.

In fact, the a court-appointed VE is almost always the adversary of the claimant, and if the court has requested the presence of a vocational expert in your case, the chances are the judge is already of the opinion that you are not disabled, or at least that you are not incapacitated to the point that you cannot work. By hand-picking a VE to refute your case, the judge is in actuality seeking confirmation of an opinion which he or she has already formed, which is in all likelihood unfavorable to the claimant.

When a vocational expert is present, it is most critical that a disability attorney present your social security disability case. It is the rare case that a claimant is able to refute expert testimony in any meaningful way. Remember, the VE will know how to interpret your medical records and work history in a way that will result in denial of your claim, and it will take an experienced disability lawyer, one who is familiar with such vocational testimony, to develop a legal strategy that results in the approval of your disability benefits.

Reference: Carol Duncan, the writer of this article, is the founder of the Social Security Disability Resource Center blog.

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