While many attorneys will assist with filing for Social Security Disability (SSD) if a person has become disabled but has worked a sufficient amount of time both over their work life and in the last few years, a person is allowed to represent themselves in the process.
Different Types of Social Security Disability
There are two types of disability which are handled by the Social Security Administration. Each of these is dramatically different but the “claimant” (the person applying for benefits) must be familiar with the system and the terminology to be successful in their claims.
The first type of disability is SSDI, or SSD, which is the acronym for Social Security Disability Insurance. These benefits are available to workers who have paid Social Security taxes as an employee and/or as self employed over a sufficiently long and specific time period. The benefit amount is based on the worker’s earnings record for their work history in a specific timeframe and are available regardless of the household’s income or assets.
The second type is Supplemental Security Income (SSI) which is essentially a federal welfare program for the elderly, blind, and disabled. Unlike SSDI, these benefits are paid out of general revenues, not the Social Security trust fund. The benefit amount for SSI is set by Congress, and states may add a supplemental amount but are not required to do so. Unlike SSDI, SSI is “needs-based” and therefore to collect benefits a person must meet the income and assets requirements of the program. SSI can be collected regardless of work history and can be collected for children if their parents meet the asset and income requirements.
It is much harder to find an attorney to assist with filing for SSI, than it is for SSDI, primarily because fewer people qualify, the past benefits are much lower, and the amount is not paid directly to the attorney by the Social Security Administration. This lack of a direct payment means that occasionally an attorney gets “stiffed” for their fee when the client receives the check for SSI back payments and fails to pay the attorney.
The Disability Claim Process
All claims for disability start with filing the initial Disability Benefit Application either online or with the local Social Security Administration office. What most people do not realize is almost all claims are denied at this stage.
Lawyer X, the author of our The Guerrilla Guides to the Law and our main contributing writer here at the LessonsInLaw.com website, points out in our newest book The Guerrilla Guide to Filing For Social Security Disability that of all of the disability benefits cases he was involved in, only two were approved at the initial phase. In one of these, the claim was filed by the family of a man in a coma. In the second, the claimant was referred by the local mental health clinic and in the 15 minute interview in Lawyer X’s office, the claimant spoke only to the empty chair next to her and would then listen as she believed the imaginary person in the empty chair relayed her message to the lawyer.
After the initial claim is denied by the local office the next step is to file for a Reconsideration, which is also usually denied. At that point the decision is then appealed to the SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations and a request is made to have an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hear he case. Since the ALJs only hear cases which have been denied this hearing is, in effect, a completely new process using the same forms which were submitted earlier as well as some additional ones which will be used to update records, etc.
Disadvantages of Using an Attorney
The only real disadvantage in using an attorney to assist with filing for Social Security Disability benefits is the cost. As a general rule, attorneys are limited by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to charging 25% of the past benefits, plus their costs, as a fee. The SSA will occasionally allow a deviation upwards from this figure and the attorney must provide legitimate reasons for the requested increase and then the SSA must approve the higher fee. The reasons normally given involve a greater than usual amount of time involved and the hours should be documented both as to amount and the reason.
The only other disadvantage is that the case proceeds on the attorney and the SSA’s timetable when an attorney is involved. However, this is not actually an issue in very many cases because an attorney only gets paid when the client is paid and thus they are anxious to get the matter resolved as well.
Many people choose to represent themselves because they do not want to pay an attorney the 25% fee. However, the Social Security Disability process is very difficult and if a person is not willing to do the work and/or they lack the knowledge to do it correctly, then the claim is almost certain to be denied.
There are a variety of resources available to assist a person who chooses to represent themselves. The Social Security Administration itself has sections on its website explaining the different aspects of a disability claim. However, even the sections designed for the general public are not very “user friendly” and often use language which is hard to understand without any explanation.
All of the forms a claimant needs are online now although it can be difficult to know which claims to use and then, difficult to find the right form and/or to fill them out correctly.
The process itself is also very difficult to understand with different agencies and entities involved in the process and applying for benefits often means acquiring medical records from the claimant’s own physicians and medical providers as well as seeing various experts hired by the SSA. Unfortunately, many of the experts used by the Social Security Administration are quick to issue an opinion that the person does not meet the various demands required to be considered disabled.
This adversarial relationship between the Social Security Administration, the experts and judges it employees, and the disabled person creates a system where a person choosing to represent themselves needs to be informed as to all aspects of their case and what may be required.
The Guerrilla Guide to Filing for Social Security Disability Without a Lawyer
The difficulty of the process, the lack of proper educational materials by the SSA, and the way the system seems to be set up to make it easier for claims to be denied is the reason LessonsInLaw.com chose to have Lawyer X write the latest Guerrilla Guide to the Law. This book, The Guerrilla Guide to Filing For Social Security Disability, took over two years to write and includes the latest information on the Social Security Disability process. Just as we were preparing to go to press in February, 2019, we received notice some of the information had changed and updated the book, just as we will continue to do from this point forward.
The Guerrilla Guide to Filing For Social Security Disability was designed to reduce the amount of “legalese” in the process and explain the various terms used by the SSA. In addition, when a specific term or language must be used because the SSA requires it, Lawyer X explains the terms in a way which is easy to understand.
Further, many aspects of being successful in filing a disability claim are not actually written down anywhere on the Social Security website or, for that matter, anywhere else EXCEPT our book. These are tips and strategies developed over the time period during which Lawyer X represented people in Social Security cases. These “insider tactics” can mean the difference between winning your case and having your claim approved or being denied and potentially having to start the process all over.
It is clear the Social Security Administration does not require a lawyer to assist you in the process of applying for either form of disability benefits. Neither will the people involved make it harder on you, which can happen in a regular court case, if you decide to proceed on your own.
By using The Guerrilla Guide to Filing For Social Security Disability a claimant is able to represent themselves effectively and greatly increase their chances of having their claim for disability benefits approved.