Many Social Security disability claimants are under the impression that hiring an attorney will speed up the processing of their case with the Social Security Administration (SSA). While hiring an attorney does not directly translate into a claim being processed more quickly by the SSA, there are many benefits of having an attorney on your case.
Benefits at the Initial Application Stage
Getting an attorney representative to help you with your initial application for benefits may help your chances of being found disabled. As most disability claimants and attorneys know, the majority of people are denied on their initial application. However, some benefits of our office helping a claimant complete an initial application may include:
- Helping you obtain a medical source statement from your doctor by providing questionnaires designed to get your doctor’s opinions on specific issues Social Security addresses: Social Security is supposed to give great weight to the opinions of your treating medical providers.
- Updating Social Security about changes in your condition and treatment: the more complete the medical records Social Security has, the more likely it will have enough evidence to make a favorable decision.
- Ensuring your application is complete: the application can be overwhelming to someone who has never done it before, but we are able to walk you through and ensure you provide complete and accurate information.
- Submitting medical records in support of your claim: while Social Security typically requests all of your medical records at the initial application stage, we are able to help follow up with providers Social Security cannot reach.
- Keeping track of your claim to make sure it is processed in a timely manner: we regularly follow up on each claim to make sure Social Security has everything it needs and to make sure the case is moving forward.
While Social Security does not give special treatment to cases handled by an attorney or qualified representative, having an experienced advocate working on your behalf can make your case stronger.
On The Record Request
If your application is denied at the initial stages, the next step is to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Currently in Indiana, we have to wait for 12-15 months to get a hearing. This is a long time for claimants who are dealing with serious and painful conditions. One way an attorney can try to speed up the process is to file a Request for a Decision on the Record (an OTR request). When I file an OTR request, I attempt to make sure Social Security has completely updated medical records, and I write a brief that explains why the ALJ should be able to find the claimant disabled without holding a hearing. If the ALJ agrees with my argument, we can get a favorable decision without having to wait for a hearing. If not, we simply have to wait to argue the case in front of the judge.
Critical Case Request
If your financial situation is dire or your medical condition is terminal, you may be eligible for a critical case designation. The SSA breaks down critical case requests into six different categories: terminal illness, veteran with 100% permanent and total disability rating, military casualty/wounded warrior, compassionate allowances, dire need, and potentially violent/suicidal. If your attorney thinks you meet one of these requirements, he or she can submit a critical case request on your behalf. It is then up to Social Security to determine whether your case fits their criteria for a critical case designation. If so, the SSA will expedite the processing of your claim.
Follow this link for the complete rules on critical case requests.
Your Medical Records
At the initial application and the reconsideration stages, the Social Security Administration will request all medical records of which they are aware in order to make the most informed decision possible on your claim. Unfortunately, the SSA does not always have a complete record when it makes its decision. Sometimes a medical provider does not comply with the request in a timely manner; other times Social Security does not follow up on a request and the records fall through the cracks. Once Social Security has scheduled your ALJ hearing, our office requests your missing medical records as well as updated medical records from your current providers. Many times, when a claimant does not have representation, the judge and/or claimant may be unaware that the file is missing medical records. I feel that one of my office’s most important jobs as your representative is to ensure your medical record is complete for your best chances to win at your hearing.
In my experience, although hiring an attorney or claimant representative to help with your Social Security disability claim might not directly speed up your claim with Social Security, there are many things that an experienced attorney can do to make sure your claim gets processed as quickly and efficiently as possible.