Virtually all attorneys encounter clients who are eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Regrettably, few tell their clients about these benefits. It is crucial to begin the application process right away since it can take several years to complete.
The SSA administers Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. SSDI requires that the claimant worked for five of the ten years prior to the onset of disability. SSI instead has income and asset limits. Both require that the claimant suffer from medically determinable impairments that are expected to prevent the claimant from working for at least one year.
The initial application is ordinarily completed without the help of an attorney. The claimant calls the SSA main phone number — (800) 772-1213 — conducts a telephone interview, completes SSA forms, and is usually denied. Sometimes there is a level of appeal called “Reconsideration”. Next, when a hearing is requested, is when the lawyer must come in.
Before the hearing, the lawyer can help the client in several ways. Make sure the client is getting all the appropriate treatment. An ALJ will never believe testimony without a thick medical file. Advise the client on all free treatment available, including mental health providers. Make sure that the client appeals within the 60-day window. All correspondence with SSA should be certified return receipt requested. Also, request that the ALJ subpoena the SSA doctors. (See Hallex I-2-578).
Finally, consult with an expert in this field for appeals to the Appeals Council and finally the federal courts. If you fail to raise an issue to the Appeals Council you will be barred from raising it in district court.
With tens of thousands of dollars in the balance, the process is frustrating but worthwhile.