The Social Security Administration (SSA) gives every applicant the right to work with a disability representative. A disability representative’s role is to serve as your advocate when you apply for disability benefits and throughout the appeals process. This person, who can be either an attorney or a non-attorney representative, accompanies you to your hearing and argues your claim in front of the administrative law judge (ALJ).
The responsibilities of the disability representative before and after the Social Security hearing include fighting for your right to monthly benefits. While you may choose either a lawyer or a non-attorney representative to advocate for you, attorneys tend to have more education, more experience in front of judges, and a greater fiduciary responsibility to their clients.
What Will My Disability Representative Do Before My Hearing?
Ideally, you should hire a disability representative well before your hearing. This way, your representative has time to adequately prepare. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, they should do several things on your behalf.
Learn Your Medical History
Your medical history could make or break your case. In fact, if you are going in front of an ALJ, it means a disability examiner already denied your application. Often, this occurs because of your medical history or your work history.
If you received a denial on medical grounds, your representative has a responsibility to understand why you were not approved and then take steps to strengthen your application in those areas.
If, for instance, the disability examiner was not convinced that your condition limits you to the degree you claimed it does, your representative should gather additional medical evidence that shows your functional limitations. Your representative might get this evidence from medical records, lab reports, doctors’ statements, or interviews with your coworkers and others who spend time with you.
Learn Your Work History
Your work history matters, too. The SSA will deny your application if it feels you are capable of working. Even if you cannot continue at your most recent job, the SSA looks back over your history to identify any job from your past that you might be capable of doing again, even with your present condition. The SSA also evaluates your education and skill set and tries to match you with jobs you could be capable of performing, even if you have not done them before.
That means you need to have your work history accurately cataloged. Ideally, you should provide evidence showing why you would be unable, due to your current condition, to return to any position from your past. Your representative should take the lead in this process.
What Will My Representative Do at My Hearing?
Your hearing is the only stage of the disability application and appeals process where you have the opportunity to plead your case in front of a judge who has unilateral decision-making ability on your claim. Your representative needs to present a compelling argument during this hearing.
Make a Thorough, Evidence-Backed Case
Your representative should arrive at your hearing ready to make a compelling case, similar to an attorney giving a closing argument in front of a jury.
By this point, the representative should know your medical history and work history and should be ready to answer any questions about them. They should have the evidence they gathered organized sequentially and use it to make a logical, easy-to-follow case. They should also anticipate objections, questions, or concerns from the ALJ and be able to respond to them quickly, thoroughly, and confidently.
Interview Expert Witnesses
Applicants often show up to ALJ hearings only to find that the judge has brought an expert witness, such as a medical or vocational specialist, to ask the applicant questions and testify on their medical or work history.
Your representative should be able to deal with any expert witnesses who might be present. That means responding to the witness’s questions and asking questions of their own. These questions should elicit answers that reflect favorably on your claim.
What About After My Hearing?
Your representative’s job does not end when the hearing does. If the judge’s decision is not favorable, your representative should be ready to request a review with the Appeals Council. In the event of a partially favorable decision—one in which the SSA grants you benefits, but not as far back as you requested—your representative can advise you on whether to accept the smaller back pay or keep fighting.
For a Free Disability Attorney Consultation, Call the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC, at 866-628-8179.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Ogle, Elrod & Baril, PLLC, can act as your disability representatives throughout the application or appeals process. We want to help you win benefits. To schedule your free consultation today, call our office at 866-628-8179.