When does a Social Security Disability applicant need a lawyer’s assistance? Do all applicants need representation?
Quite often I hear “an attorney is not needed until a claimant is denied twice”. This, in my opinion, is a terrible misconception of the Social Security Disability appeals process and an improper message.
A number of errors are committed early on in the claims process for pro se claimants that otherwise would have been avoided had a diligent representative been involved from the beginning. These errors, whether it be simply overstating daily activities on a State agency questionnaire, understating pain on a pain questionnaire for the State agency, or not objecting to a consultative examination may be so damaging to a case that reversing or correcting those errors after-the-fact may not be possible.
One of the most important things any Social Security representative should do is know his or her client’s case, inside and out. In any Social Security Disability claim, opinions will be offered by Social Security non-examining consultants concerning an applicant’s physical and mental capabilities, and what specifically was utilized in medical and other records to support those opinions. If a claim was denied, those opinions will essentially lead to a conclusion that an applicant is capable of working, regardless of what an applicant or his doctor has advised the Social Security Administration the applicant can (or better put cannot) do. These non-examining consultant opinions will need to be addressed when the applicant’s case to an Administrative Law Judge. Obviously those opinions will not be supportive of an applicant’s case, as these were used as a basis for denying the claim previously.
A qualified Social Security representative is likely to be needed to properly address issues raised by the non-examining consultants with good development of the evidence, which applicants are unlikely going to be aware of in the first place (let alone know HOW to adequately address shortcomings in the evidence of record). A Social Security administrative law judge is unlikely to simply accept what an applicant says at a hearing concerning limitations of function (whether physical, mental, or both) without medical evidentiary support.
And while this should be obvious to all, it is imperative that any applicant for Social Security Disability and maintain regular medical treatment, with specialists for difficult medical problems. An applicant not seeing doctors for their problems is unlikely to result in a successful claim as a basic principal in Social Security law is that claims for benefits must be supported by medical evidence. Lack of treatment will almost surely have a negative impact on the outcome of the claim.