You’ve filed for Social Security Disability (or SSI) because you’re unable to work due to an injury or illness. Great job! But now what can you do to set yourself up of the best possible chance of success?
Here are four things to do for anyone who has filed a social security disability claim.
Keep Going to the Doctor
It’s incredibly important that you continue to go to all scheduled medical appointments. If the Social Security Administration determines that you aren’t going to regularly scheduled appointments, while they’re evaluating your disability claim, they may decide against your claim on the basis that IF you did go to the doctor your impairments would be manageable. And thus, you would be able to seek, obtain, and maintain employment (or other substantially gainful activity).
Going to appointments can be difficult, depending on your conditions. If you find it difficult to maintain a schedule of medical appointments you should make sure to note this. Better, even than keeping personal records on this though, is retaining an advocate and making sure they know how difficult it is for you to attend your medical appointments. They may be able to secure some accommodations and/or they may be able to communicate your challenges effectively to the Social Security Administration.
Maintain Good Records of Any and All Hospital Visits
In a perfect world, everyone who needs access (and has permission to access) your medical records, would do so prior to making a decision that impacts you. However, it’s not a perfect world, and one of the most common goofs on disability claim decisions occurs when the adjudicator makes a decision without all the evidence they should have. Sometimes, a big piece of the pie is tracking down what SSA knew, and what they should have known.
Of course, this isn’t the only reason to keep records of visits. It’s good practice to do so even if everyone is on the same page because you never know when someone might lose a record, claim to have never received it, or claim that you didn’t go to that medical appointment in the first place.
Keeping good records can be as easy as making sure everything goes into a specific folder or box. Just don’t throw them away!
Keep Track of Challenges you Have During the Day
At some point, someone is going to want to know what kind of impact your impairments have on your everyday life. You can sit there across from a judge, or in front of a doctor and try to recall ALL the ways in which you’re affected, or you can rely on the notes you’ve taken in preparation for that question.
This means, take notes. Keep a journal. Take pictures, if that’s easier. Keep a video diary. Just document your challenges in some way.
This one action helps eliminate the ambiguous understanding (on the part of the SSA) that Social Security Disability claims denials often spring forth from.
Consider Discussing your Claim with an Excellent & Local Social Security Disability Lawyer
It’s never really too early to start a discussion with an excellent local Social Security Disability Lawyer. There are several reasons you’d want to do this.
#1) An experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer can give you advice from having gone through this process >1000 times. This is probably your first time through the process. If you can get any direct advice or even support, it’s worth your time to reach out for it!
#2) If your claim is denied (it happens far too often) – you have a short turn-around to file an appeal. Being able to bring in a disability attorney that has already heard the merits of your claim, provided input on them, and that you have a pre-existing relationship with – will help to reduce your stress at a very difficult point.
If you’re looking for a Social Security Lawyer in Spokane, WA or northern Idaho here’s a checklist of five things to consider.
Are they actually located in Spokane?
Are they Connected to the Community of Spokane?
Do they Help You to Understand Your Social Security Claim?
Are they an Expert
Are they Approachable?
Are they actually located in Spokane?
These are perfectly legitimate question to ask any lawyer your considering working with. Where are you located? Can I visit you if I have questions? Can we schedule a time to discuss my case?
It may surprise you to discover that some law firms that advertise in the Spokane area are not from Spokane at all. In fact, they only rent an office space, just to have a local address. Shocking, but we covered these types of misdirection in another article, here.
Are they Connected to the Community of Spokane?
One of the biggest benefits to working with a local Social Security lawyer is that you benefit from the connections they’ve made in their work. It’s very common that someone seeking the help of a Social Security lawyer has other support needs that are a natural handoff to someone who has a robust local network. An excellent local law firm will have a list of, or at least referrals to, other excellent firms and resources available at request.
Do they Help You to Understand Your Social Security Claim?
It’s very important that you consider the commitment a local law firm places in helping you to understand your Social Security claim. The process of appealing SSI & SSDI denials can be confusing, and it can be frustrating. A great blog & newsletter might seem small when you’re first looking into representation, but these will be the first places you look when you want to know more about something like a reconsideration denial.
In a not so subtle way, a firm that commits to educating their clients is a firm that will be committed to bringing them along every step of the way. So…take a look at that blog & newsletter. See if it helps you understand your situation? Does the firm demonstrate awareness, understanding and expertise in the way they break down the things you don’t know?
Are they an Expert & Are they Approachable?
Ok, this is a two-part criteria, but you’re aiming to find someone that is both of these at once. An expert that is unapproachable is not going to help you understand your claim. And an approachable novice is a novice nonetheless.
They say there’s no substitute for experience, and it takes time, commitment, and success to gain that experience.
As for approachability, take a look at the videos on the lawyer’s website. Look at their social media pages, and check out the reviews. You’ll get a “gut” sense pretty quickly about whether that lawyer is someone you can relate to, trust, and share your story with.
How Lilac City Law Stacks Up to this Criteria
Now that you’ve seen our list, take a deeper look at our firm.
If you’re in the process of applying for Social Security Disability, or if you’ve already applied and are looking to get a bit more help for an appeal – then the following criteria can help you select the best Social Security lawyer for your case.
Work With Someone That Makes You Comfortable
The first and maybe most important factor in picking a Social Security Lawyer is overcoming the initial fear factor of reaching out for help.
Let’s be honest, most of the time the first person called is the attorney with the commercial on TV or that website that shows up on the top of Google. However, as we’ve learned in our firm, a lot of clients gravitate towards representatives that can understand them. For instance, if you’re seeking to claim PTSD and already apprehensive about reaching out for help, getting someone on the other end of the phone that has an imposing persona very easily could lead to trouble at many points during the claims process.
A Social Security claim or appeal can be complex, it’s very important that you have confidence in your lawyer, but also that you have the impression that you can communicate with them or their office without worrying about how they might view, judge, or aggravate your impairments.
Be careful to choose a lawyer that doesn’t intimidate you in any way. You’re going through a tough enough process, keep the barriers to your relationship low and the trust factor high.
Trust w/ Your Social Security Lawyer
The things that generate trust vary widely from one person to the next. However, there are some basic principals that everyone can rely upon when determining if a given Social Security Lawyer is trustworthy.
Ratings & Reviews
Avvo is a great tool for getting straight-forward ratings and reviews of attorneys. They have a proprietary ratings system and review system that they claim can’t be gamed. This is very important, and as you can imagine, review and rating stuffing is common and sadly something that erodes confidence in any rating system.
In addition to Avvo, Google provides a great system for getting reviews of all sorts of lawyers, including disability lawyers. If you do a search for disability lawyers near you, or for a specific disability lawyer, you will likely see their Google ratings & reviews pop-up next to their listing. This is a bit more crowd-sourced than Avvo but is a very valuable tool for both selecting a great disability lawyer, and for reviewing them after you’ve worked with them. Here is an example of ratings and reviews using Google.
The internet has been around for a while at this point. As have digital cameras. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is just as true today as when it was coined. In fact, it might even be truer today than ever. Consider how a picture helps to establish rapport and trust.
You want a disability lawyer that shows you they know what they’re doing. They are respectable and respected. And they will be the best champion for your fight, right? That’s why every attorney, doctor, consultant, author, etc. has a professional picture of themselves somewhere on their website. But one of the biggest problems is that pictures can (and are) staged. However, an authentic video is much harder to fake.
Check out the prospective disability attorney’s Facebook and YouTube channels. First off, do they even have social media at all? And on those channels, see if they have videos sharing insights, talking to clients, answering questions. Sometimes these videos will also be on the lawyer’s website or blog as well.
Watching how the lawyer answers questions will give you a lot more than a picture – at least in helping you to build an idea of who they are and how they communicate.
Ask yourself, “is this someone that can communicate my challenges, is this someone I can communicate my challenges to?”
A short video will usually give you an enormous amount of insight into answering those questions.
When seeking insight into a disability lawyer’s persona don’t forget to look at the extras on their website. Blogs, especially, will tell you how committed they are to sharing information with you.
Is their website a bunch of short questions with hooks at the end of each one? If so, how does that help you, as a potential client, to understand the processes involved in your claim? Alternatively, do they have a wealth of information about all aspects of your claim, and questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet in their blog or newsletter? Six months from now when you’re wondering what your chances are of succeeding, this might be exactly what you need to keep your spirits high.
A blog may not be what you initially thought of when thinking, “how do I pick a Social Security lawyer,” but now that you’re in the search, take a look around and see who’s keeping their clients and future clients informed and who’s just fishing for the next client.
Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Think about this for a moment.. this is something that can help you to identify what type of disability lawyer or disability law firm to work with.
One might argue that a huge firm with many thousands of cases is big because they are good. They certainly have the advertising budget to portray that success. However, the continued existence of many hundreds, or even thousands, of community disability lawyers fly in the face of that sentiment. At the end of the day, you can deal with one bureaucracy (huge firm) to fight another one (SSA), or you can work with a personalized firm who remembers your name when you call.
It comes back to that question, big fish or small fish? The small fish sometimes has a hard time being heard.
In response to the big fish/small fish question, you do, at some, point want to consider how responsive your disability lawyer will be to your unique needs. Hint, they have to recognize that you indeed do have unique needs in the first place.
Like a Dr. Office, it’s probably not reasonable that the attorney can stop immediately talking to one patient (client) to take a call from another. That’s why staff and client liaisons exist. However, it is reasonable and should be necessary, to have an attorney that is available to talk, within a reasonable amount of time.
Can you call the firm and get a response from the attorney in a reasonable amount of time? Can you schedule a time to actually come into the firm and talk to the lawyer that’s representing you? Not everyone can…
Being able to communicate, even briefly, is something you’re going to want to do as a disability hearing approaches.
During the course of your claim (or appeal), there will be curveballs thrown your way. Whether those curveballs originate from within the claim itself or they happen to come from directions yet unseen, you want someone on your side that “knows someone.”
One of the best things about working with an experienced and established disability lawyer is that you’re also working with their network. A good lawyer doesn’t gain experience by being an island unto themselves. They often work with partners in similar fiends to increase the effectiveness of their own services.
To you, the client or future client, this means – that when that curveball arrives you can ask for referrals, assistance, resource information, and things like this. Or rather, you should be able to. Unfortunately, this also relies on the idea that your disability lawyer is local, which as we know from previous discussions, is just not always the case.
The surprising thing most people don’t know about “ local ” Social Security disability law firms.
Imagine you want to go to school. You go online, and see there’s a local campus in your city. After some searching you can’t find the hours the campus is open, so you give them a call. They answer quickly and are very friendly. They get your info and send you all your application papers. You fill them out and return them in the pre-stamped envelope provided to you. All is great.
Well it seems great, but now you have a question. You want to know if you can meet with your instructor before class starts. You aren’t sure about the class you’re going to be taking. So you call.
The nice person on the other side of the phone says they’ll have the instructor call you back. But you don’t want a call back, you want to meet with them. You’d like the ability to sit down face to face with them, if possible, before class starts.
It’s only at this point, after much insistence on your part, that you find out from the school that the instructor doesn’t actually live in the area. In fact, the school itself is in another state. All of your work is going to be done remotely, and you might never even talk to the instructor until your final test date. They (the instructor) will fly in a couple hours before your test, answer any questions you have, then give you the test. Don’t worry though, you can always talk to the someone from the school – over the phone, of course..
Maybe this scenario is a little silly, there’s almost no industry where this actually happens. Well “almost” is the key word. Let’s take this story and change a few things around. And in so doing, reveal the secret implied in the title of this article.
The Big Secret..
Instead of a school, let’s say you’re looking for a disability attorney. And instead of an education, let’s say you want to successfully appeal a denial of your disability claim.
In this revised story, you have a disability denial and you called a disability lawyer in Spokane. You signed up to work with them, and when you had a question about your disability claim you called the local office. Only through your insistence to meet with your social security lawyer did you find out they didn’t actually have an office in Spokane. Nor in Idaho, or anywhere in the Inland Empire.
The Spokane Disability Lawyer you found online actually only has a rented space, with a rented receptionist. Guess what? The boss will never be in.
With the exception of an occasional phone call, you’ll have a completely virtual experience with your disability attorney.
At this point you should know that all disability lawyers charge the same amount. It’s set by law. So if cost is thrown out of your decision tree, what would be the big reason for going with an out of state attorney vs one close to home.
We take a lot of pride in being part of this community. As your actual “local” disability attorney we have all the knowledge and experience of the out of town firms with the added benefit of being here for you anytime you have a question.
Give us a call, or stop by and find out why when you work with us, there’s no surprises.
You might have seen the Shared article we placed on Facebook earlier this month regarding the upcoming changes to the Social Security Administration medical Listings for neurological, respiratory and mental health impairments. The new Neurological Impairment listing updates became effective 9/29/16 and new Respiratory Impairment listings on October 7, 2016. The new Mental Health updates won’t become effective until January 2017. That said, really important changes have already occurred under the Neurological and Respiratory updates.
How these new Medical Listings Apply to You
For example, SSA has really broken down neurological conditions and diseases. Whereas certain disorders, like seizure related disorders, were all more generally lumped together, now different types of seizure activity are spelled out. The Disabled Individual claiming eligibility for SSA benefits has the burden to prove that their impairments preclude all substantial work. One of the ways to do this is by providing medical evidence demonstrating that the condition, like epilepsy, meets or equals these medical Listings. A keen eye to detail must be used when analyzing neurology and radiology records. A person with significant limitations due to their neurological disorder may be denied if the decision-maker is not paying close attention to these records in light of the new medical Listings.
Are you the type of person that likes to figure out how everything works? The type of person that seeks to try to first figure things out on your own? If so, you are not alone. A lot of (future) clients tend to work through the disability process on their own.. at first. You will likely have a better chance of success with a disability lawyer on your side up-front, but finding one that will help is difficult. Often, the initial claim is left to go its own way and the results are more or less predictable. It’s not your fault though, the system is not setup to make disability claims easy to obtain. If you’re like the majority, at some point you’ll ask your self, “when should I contact a disability attorney” or “when is it too late to hire a disability attorney?”
Let me try to answer that for you.
When you should Contact a Disability Attorney
As early as you can. You should not wait for a denial to contact an experienced disability lawyer. The risk in waiting for a denial is that when you are denied, you begin racking up due dates. The most important one being your appeal to the denial. If you want more direction on this, you should read, Your To-Do List for Social Security. If you wait too long to hire a disability attorney, you risk being too late to hire a disability attorney at all, at least on your appeal.
When It’s too late to Hire a Disability Attorney
Of course, attorneys exist because things aren’t perfect. You are navigating an imperfect system (Social Security) for a tough benefit to obtain (disability). Timelines get missed, mail gets lost, communication breaks down..so when is it too late to contact and retain a disability attorney?
If you want to know when it’s too late for your claim.. the answer is if your appeal period has lapsed. If you’re in the situation where the points made above don’t apply because you’ve already missed your timeliness, you’re probably already too late.
Even if you are past your appeal period though, you should still contact an experienced disability lawyer. There may be aspects of your claim that changes the situation or extraordinary circumstances that can salvage a claim. Alternatively, there may be a better route to pursue should you seek to go back again for another go-round.
When It’s Too Late…but It’s Not Too Late for Round 2..
Obviously seeking an appeal to a disability denial is the best course of action. But there are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to do this anymore. One reason often cited by clients is the “You Have to Apply Three Times” myth.
Whatever the reason, should your claim be beyond salvaging, you can apply again. A lot of successful claimants have applied several times. You wouldn’t be the first, and shouldn’t shy away from doing this if you need to.
The facts are that you cannot work because of an illness or injury, and you rate SSI or SSDI. You may just need a little extra help making the Social Security Administration understand this.
Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI
Take advantage of our FREE 30-minute consultation!
If you were to turn on the nightly news you might come away with the impression that disability claims have soared in recent years. Perhaps everyone is onto the secret? Social Security Disability is a way to get compensation from the Federal Government for being unable to work because of an injury or illness.. Or is it?
The Role of Social Security Disability
Social Security Disability is a benefit paid into by most workers. If something happens that stops these workers from being able to work, they can apply to receive compensation. An excellent way to look at this benefit is to consider it similar to an insurance policy on someone’s ability to work. But, as some news outlets have noted, is it something else as well? Are disability claims a path to easy street?
We’ve already covered the history of fraud, waste, abuse, and drugs in Social Security Disability, and how we got to ‘today.’ In fact, a common theme in our series on busting Social Security Disability myths has been demonstrating how the facts don’t seem to match up with the prevailing opinions on this topic.
The Typical Spin
The Washington Post opines, “Welfare is the New Work,” and expands on this assertion by stating, “disability rolls are growing even as worker safety has hit an all-time high.” The Richmond Federal Reserve Bank decries federal disability benefits becoming the new “general safety net.” What is the truth behind these seemingly authoritative opinions? And what are some reasons to question the conclusions of these authors?
One of the best responses to these opinions has come from the opinion pages of the New York Times. Three entire paragraphs at the end of the previously linked article break down in detail why “Disability claims are not skyrocketing.” We will summarize below.
If you look at the disability claims and awards over a historical timeline you can see why someone might claim a skyrocketing increase in claims. It’s certainly something that requires a nuanced and objective look though.
A Closer Look at the Data
Since 2000, claims have doubled, however, something interesting has happened..award rates have stayed essentially the same among the entirety of workers, about 5%. If claims are skyrocketing and award rates are staying the same, is there a problem of fraud, waste, or abuse? Logic would say in this case, that if there were it wouldn’t be on the part of the claimants. It is Social Security that has deviated sharply down from their historical awards rate in recent years.
Another point that is important to understand in this discussion is that while the number of claims and claims awarded may have gone up in the last 10-15 years, so too has the pool of workers from which claims can be drawn.
Bringing the Spin & the Data Together
So why has the rate of total claims increased in recent years? Several factors likely play into this. The first being a poor economy from 2009-2015 or so. During the Great Recession, the total labor force far out numbered available jobs. Everyone had a hard time finding employment, especially those on the cusp of possibly rating a disability benefit. The reality of being terminally un-employed likely brought a number of claimants to the disability application process that would potentially have continued being the working disabled in a more traditional economy.
Other, demographic, factors also influenced the spike in applications. The average age of the workforce was/is moving higher as baby-boomers hit retirement age. The number of workers 55-65 years remained unusually high during the great recession as many near retirement workers chose to continue working. Workers in this age range are at a higher risk of needing to file for disability at some point because of a confluence of age and a lifetime of work.
Another demographic shift can be found in the rising rate of women seeking disabilities.
Women have taken more work as a whole, and also more physically demanding work over the last four decades. In reference to this trend, since1985 the age-adjusted disability rate for women has increased at a much faster clip than age-adjusted disability rate for men.
Looking at the Assumptions Again
So, is it fair to say, “Disability Claims are Soaring!”
Well, the disability claims rate is up, sure. But when adjusted for age and demographics, they are only slightly up, and certainly not “soaring.” Moreover, as we’ve shown many times in this blog, the actual award rates, despite the number of claims, has remained flat, and in respect to the number of claims – it has dropped drastically.
This last point is probably the more surprising story that places like the Washington Post missed. The headline should read:
“The Award Rate for Disability is Plummeting!”
But that story doesn’t sell…
Lilac City Law advocates on behalf of the disabled in their claims for Social Security Disability and SSI