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Filing for Social Security Disability on Your Own

Summer 2011

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If you are considering filing for Social Security Disability, you will often be told to hire an attorney or non-attorney advocate. There is no doubt that this is the best advice; however, in many cases, it is easier said than done. Most attorneys and advocates resist accepting clients at the initial application stage.

Part of the reason is how the advocates are paid. Social Security requires that an advocate who helps someone apply for benefits can be paid only on a contingency basis (that is, a fee can only be paid when the claimant is awarded benefits). Further, Social Security limits such payments to 25% of any retrospective payment from Social Security to a maximum fee of $6,000.

Remember, though, Social Security does not pay any benefits at all during the first five calendar months of disability, so if you file immediately upon leaving work, it is very possible you will be approved for benefits before you are actually eligible to receive benefits, so there is either no or very little retrospective benefit for an advocate to receive that 25%.

Because of this, many advocates, especially, attorneys will not accept clients until they have been denied at least once or twice. The retrospective payments in such appealed cases will be much more substantial, increasing the advocate's fee.

Add to that the fact that 60% of initial applications are turned down and over 80% of the first level of appeals -- Reconsideration -- are also denied. Yet, most claims that go before an Administrative Law Judge, the third level of appeal, are approved. No wonder many attorneys only do the Administrative Law Judge appeals. Their chances for approval are greater and the retrospective payment is high enough so the advocate's fee is usually the maximum of $6,000.

The drawback for you, the claimant, is that it is not unusual for a disability claim to take two years to reach an Administrative Law Judge.

If you cannot find an advocate who will take your initial claim, you may want to go ahead and file for disability on your own. But rather than plan for a two-year wait to start your stream of disability income, you can apply in a manner that will substantially increase your chances of being in that 40% of claimants who are approved initially.

Before Applying

Know your disability and exactly what symptoms you have that keep you from working fulltime in any type of job. Look up your condition in the Blue Book Listing of Impairments at to see if your condition meets any of the listings. If so, approval will be easier. You may want to discuss these with your doctor to make sure the record shows that you do meet a listing. You should also make sure all available objective testing is also included.

You may want to collect copies of all your medical records; this will definitely speed up the claims process. However, if you do, do not turn them in to your local Social Security office. Your medical records are not reviewed there but are examined by an Analyst at a state agency, typically called Disability Determination Services (DDS), and medical records often get lost in the transition. Once your claim is transferred there, you can contact your Analyst directly who can provide you with what you need to send the records directly.

If you do not submit medical records, you will want to work with your Analyst to make sure the doctors send in their records promptly when requested.

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This article was provided by Being Alive. Visit Being Alive's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
See Also
More on Social Security Disability Insurance and HIV/AIDS


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