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Disability Applications On The Rise

Amid the economic uncertainty faced by many combined with the aging Baby Boom Generation, many Americans have turned to the Federal Government for assistance and applied for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Recent statistics indicate that applications for benefits have increased by nearly 50% over the past decade. This surge in disability applications has created an even larger backlog of cases with reports of applicants waiting 2 years or more for a decision. More on this article can be accessed here.

There are many strategies that can be used to expedite the process of being approved for Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, many applicants are wisely turning to lawyers for assistance. Most lawyers will accept both SSD and SSI cases on a contingency fee basis so the lawyer is not paid a fee unless the client is approved for benefits and receives a financial back-award. The amount of a financial back-award is based upon the date disability began or the onset date. An experienced lawyer will look for the earliest possible onset date in an effort to provide the client with the largest back-award available.

Many lawyers will pay for the client’s medical records that have not been requested by the Social Security Administration (SSA). At the initial levels of a disability or SSI case, medical records are requested by the SSA, but if the case progresses to a hearing the burden shifts to the applicant to provide the most up-to-date records. Many experienced lawyers agree to pay for the medical records throughout a case so they can review them with the client and correct any problems or inconsistencies that often occur when dealing with a doctor’s translated or illegible notes.

Anyone searching for a lawyer or law firm to handle a Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income case should create a simple checklist of questions to ask the lawyer that will handle the case. Here are several important questions that should be asked by anyone searching for a lawyer:

 

  1. Will my case be handled by a lawyer or is it done by a qualified representative / advocate?
  2. What is the lawyer’s name who will handle my disability case and how many cases have they handled?
  3. Do I have to pay any fees or costs if I am unsuccessful and do not receive benefits?
  4. Do I have to pay for and provide my own medical records at any point in my case?
  5. Can the law firm switch my case to other lawyers in the firm whenever they choose and without my permission?
  6. Does the lawyer work with medical professionals who can provide an independent medical exam and who pays for this?

If any of these questions are answered in the negative (“NO”), are simply avoided and not clearly answered, then the applicant should consider looking elsewhere.

In my opinion, the most important of these questions is if a lawyer will handle your case. Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration has provided a loophole that permits practically anyone who fills out the application, regardless of experience or education, to be given the title of “qualified representative” or “advocate.”

These “qualified representatives” or “advocates” can then advertise themselves in print, television and elsewhere and claim to be an “expert” or “specialist” in SSD and SSI cases. When, in reality, many of these folks have never seen the inside of a courtroom, argued to a judge or would understand the medical terminology required in competently dealing with these types of cases.

Conversely, a lawyer might have been practicing in this field for decades yet is not allowed to call themselves a specialist or expert because the state bar prohibits it.

I would suggest that you ask your “qualified representative” or “advocate” what they plan on doing if your case must be appealed to a federal court because the judge in your case did not follow the law?  Your lawyer will understand the term Caveat Emptor (it means buyer beware) and you should too.

These questions are just an example of some of the important topics that can be asked by anyone searching for a lawyer to handle their Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income case but should not be relied upon exclusively. Questions should be determined on a case-by-case basis and will vary depending on the type of benefit sought, the age and work history of the applicant and the disabling conditions.

 

About the author: Michael L. Mastrogiovanni is a partner at the Mastrogiovanni Law Firm and practices in greater Tampa Bay Area. He represents claimants in Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income cases and has helped clients as young as 4 years of age and as old as 65 years of age obtain benefits and back-awards.