We are all familiar with people receiving social security benefits upon reaching retirement age. However, a significant part of the Social Security program is to pay benefits for those who are disabled prior to reaching retirement age. The purpose of the program is to provide benefits in the form of monetary payments as well as health insurance (Medicare or Medicaid) for those who are no longer able to work due to physical or mental disabilities.
The first step to receiving social security benefits is to apply through the local Social Security office in your county. Medical records will then be requested by the Social Security Administration and they will make an initial determination based upon the medical information received. If a denial is issued, the applicant may then file a timely appeal for reconsideration. If the Notice of Reconsideration is a denial, a timely Request for Hearing can then be filed by the applicant.
The hearing will take place before an Administrative Law Judge and exhibits will be submitted and testimony will be given. A vocational expert will often testify at the hearing. If a denial is issued as a result of the hearing, further timely appeals may be pursued with the Appeals Council and eventually in federal court. All appeals must be timely filed.
An attorney may be retained to represent you at any time throughout the process. Our advice is typically to file the Application on your own and, at a minimum, receive the first decision on your own. Obviously, if you receive benefits you will not need representation.
We generally leave it up to the client whether or not they wish to pursue a Reconsideration -- the second decision -- with or without an attorney. Some clients want to increase their chances for success on the second decision and choose to retain an attorney after the first denial. However, the second decision -- the Reconsideration -- is made without a hearing or testimony. Therefore, it is not essential that you retain an attorney before the second decision (Reconsideration) and it is really a matter of personal preference and your financial circumstances.
If the second decision (Reconsideration) is a denial, this is the point at which an attorney should be retained. If a timely appeal is filed, your claim will then be scheduled for a hearing and attorney representation at the hearing can be the difference between winning and losing. It is difficult for attorneys to first get involved in the process after an Administrative Law Judge has issued a ruling. If you intend to retain an attorney, contact us before your hearing is scheduled to allow for enough time to properly prepare your claim.