No one is required to have a representative to assist them with their claim, but a skilled attorney experienced in representing people in disability claims is often the difference between winning and losing your claim. In fact, except for the most obvious cases of disability, it is almost always advisable to get an attorney if you have been denied at the initial level of your claim. Why? Because most people don’t understand just how complicated Social Security’s regulations regarding disability really are. If you’ve been denied by SSA, there is something about your claim that needs to get straightened out or you are going to continue to be denied. I have seen case after case of persons who are obviously disabled but have been denied by SSA – often several times as part of several attempted claims – who don’t have a clue as to why.
I have heard time after time: “My doctor says I can’t work anymore, why is SSA denying my claim?” A quick review of the article in this site “What is Social Security’s Test for Disability?” should give you a little more understanding of why this is not enough to win your claim and what you are up against. But what an experienced attorney knows that is not written anywhere is that there is an ingrained bias within the state DDS agencies against allowing disability claims. I have witnessed numerous occasions where a doctor to whom a claimant has been sent by DDS for evaluation has written a report that clearly qualifies the person for disability but who DDS simply disregards and finds against the person.
In my practice I generally advise claimants who contact me to wait until after the initial decision by DDS to hire me. That way they can see if their claim is approved without having to pay an attorney. However, once denied at the initial level it is almost certain that the claim will be denied again by DDS unless new evidence is produced or the old evidence is shaped up to address the specific points of SSA’s disability test. A good attorney will know how to get that evidence if it exists, and how to address the specific problems affecting your claim. A good attorney can also make a big difference in the amount of benefits you receive by making sure that the earliest possible onset date for you disability is proven, or by arguing effectively for reopening a prior denied claim through the introduction of new and material evidence supporting your claim, all of which maximizes the benefits owed to you for the period during which you were waiting for your claim to be approved.
A disability claimant should never go to the hearing stage of their claim without a good attorney. The hearing is your first opportunity to appear in person to testify and have others testify about how your impairment affects you and your capacity to work. An experienced attorney knows what evidence to present, the right questions to ask and the right way to present the testimony of you and your witnesses. It is an opportunity to win your case that you cannot afford to squander and your last chance to win your claim without the lengthy and time consuming next steps of review: the Appeals Council and Federal District Court.
Clearly presentations to the Appeals Council and lawsuits at the Federal District Court level are beyond the ability of the vast majority of claimants and require the assistance of an attorney.