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Obtaining Disability Benefits: An Epic Battle Unfolding
As months go by painstakingly waiting for an answer, you reassure yourself this must be a simple case and the delay is "due to government bureaucracy." After several more months, your frustration grows. You then call SSA and get no answer, or worse, the ones you talk to are not responsive or helpful. The bureaucrats you spoke with were rude and put off by your phone call. You remind yourself SSA is on your side. Its job is to help people like your self by paying disability benefits, right? But... Now you begin to feel like David.
The Moment of Truth
You finally receive a correspondence from SSA, tear it open to find a Notice of Decision which instead read: “We have denied your claim for disability benefits as our trained staff and medical doctors have determined you are not disabled under our laws."
You're enraged, rankled, antagonized, baffled, scared and now intimidated by the thought of fighting Goliath --The Federal Government.
With a glimmer of hope, the decision mentions something about appeal rights, but the verdict seemed so final, moot and academic. You do not know the law, neither are you familiar with the system. You feel alone and defeated. Exactly how Goliath wants you to feel.
What’s next? Hang in there…
Statistics show that 75% of all disability applicants initially will be denied benefits. Half of those denied will give up and not appeal their denial. However, 53% of the applicants who persevere to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge obtain benefits.
Now you have an eagle’s eye view of how the system works. It is designed to deny benefits to as many claimants as possible. SSA denies initial applications because it knows 50% of the claimants will give up and not appeal. However for those who persevere and appeal their denials, the majority is eventually granted benefits.
Why? Primarily because your claim is entitled to a de novo hearing or new review by a Judge who knows the law and does not work for SSA. Also, you get to testify before the Judge about your inability to work and assess your credibility. Finally, at this stage, hopefully you have obtained sufficient medical reports from your doctors to prove your inability to work.
Now the slingshot is on your side!
Now that you have a vivid picture of how the system works, here are some tips on how you can maximize your chance for success.
1. Appeal every Denial - It bears repeating, DO NOT QUIT after receiving a denial. Now you understand you must get to a hearing. Up to that point SSA and the odds are overwhelmingly against you - receiving a denial may be cause to celebrate because you’re a step closer to a hearing.
2. Retain a Disability Attorney - Retaining an attorney who specializes in disability law should substantially increase your odds of winning. Most claimants have no idea what they need to prove to win their case.
Practically all disability attorneys work on a contingency fee meaning you only pay a fee if you win your case. Also, Federal law sets the maximum amount the fee can be in handling your case. An attorney will develop your case by obtaining the necessary medical, & billing records and opinions from your doctors that are critical in proving disability.
3. Completing Social Security Forms - You will complete a dizzying array of forms requesting all sorts of information. Be honest and very brief when completing forms. You won't win your case with the information you give on the forms but you could lose it.
4. Involve your Treating Physician - Your treating physician is critical to success. Judges give a treating physician's opinion regarding a patient’s disability tremendous weight. If your physician is not sympathetic to your claim you may want to make a change to one who is.
And as an inevitable end to this epic drama…Do not worry, history is on your side. If you don’t know how the story of David and Goliath ends… David won eventually.
About the Author: Raven Kae Yonzon is a member of the Los Angeles Social Security Attorney . The firm offers legal representation for social security disability cases.