One of the decisions you must make when you apply for Social Security disability benefits is whether or not to be represented by a qualified Social Security disability attorney or other professional, or whether to file for disability benefits on your own. Although the official Social Security Administration (SSA) publication 05-10029 attempts to explain the process of applying for disability benefits in a straightforward manner, it is immediately apparent from reading this publication that the amount of information needed to present a case can seem overwhelming. At the very least, wading through the regulations will require a considerable amount of research.
For example, when SSA Publication 05-10029 lists the requirements you must meet in order to apply for disability benefits, it tells you that there are limits imposed on your income. It then refers you to another publication (05-10003) to find out what those limits are and cautions you to refer to the most current update of that application. Following the trail of information from one source to another can take time and effort on your part, not to mention energy you may not have, depending on your disabling condition.
Another example of the strenuous process is the fact that the SSA must find your condition to be “severe” before authorizing disability benefits. In order to determine whether your condition is severe, the SSA says “your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities—such as walking, sitting and remembering—for at least one year.” You need to have medical records to document the severity of your condition. The type and kind of records vary with the disability. Some disabilities are listed in the SSA’s “blue book” (available online), but others are not listed. And what do you do if you have more than one disability (such as being both blind and diabetic)?
Once you have pulled together all the records you need and have filled out the paperwork requested by SSA, you will submit that information to your local SSA office. You will probably also attend a disability claim interview. The SSA will review your application to make sure you meet some basic requirements for disability benefits. If they determine that you meet the basic requirements, they will send your application to the Disability Determination Services office in your state. At this point, SSA disability specialists consider the facts in your case, review your medical evidence, and may ask your doctors for further information about your condition. If you are denied Social Security, you have the right to appeal the decision and attend an appeals hearing.
Not surprisingly, applicants who are represented by professionals, either a Social Security disability attorney or another professional with knowledge of the system, tend to have more success at every level of the application process, from gathering the initial paperwork and filling out the application forms correctly to attending an appeals hearing.
The SSA itself recommends being represented early in the disability application process. In a report issued in August 2010, the Office of the Inspector General for the SSA noted, “If claimants…had representatives earlier in the disability process, some of them may have received an allowance decision at the [state level] DDS level 2, saving them time and the SSA money. First, the claimants may not have had to go to the hearing level if they had representatives to assist them with completing SSA’s forms and providing the necessary evidence at the [application] DDS level. This could have saved some claimants about 500 days in receiving an allowance decision.”
If you or a close friend or family member have the time to research your condition and to gather the information needed to apply for disability benefits, you can certainly choose that option and you may well be successful in your application. However, if your time is limited or your condition prevents you from doing the work necessary to presenting your case and if you have no one to assist you, it would certainly be a good idea to interview professionals whose assistance could make all the difference in obtaining disability benefits.