Friday, October 24, 2008

Representing Yourself

When applying for disability benefits, a claimant is not required to be represented by an attorney. Statistics show that claimants who are represented by attorneys have their applications approved more often, and usually sooner, than claimants who represent themselves. Therefore, a claimant has to decide whether the cost of an attorney outweighs the increased chance of being denied without one.

I represent a 55 year old woman who spent the last twenty years working as a customer service representative with a utility, where she earned a substantial salary. She retained me after her Social Security Disability (“SSD”) application was denied. Her benefits were approved yesterday. There were several things that I did to improve her claim on appeal.

I obtained records and functional assessments from the claimant’s family doctor and chiropractor. The SSA had ignored the family doctor and chiropractor because they were not a specialist and medical doctor respectively. However, under the regulations their opinions had to be given weight, and their opinions corroborated the findings and conclusions of the treating doctors. I advised the claimant to see an arthritis specialist, and it turned out that his opinion also corroborated the findings and conclusions of the treating doctors. Thus, there were now six medical opinions that supported the claimant’s inability to perform sedentary work. I also cited the case law and regulations that required special treatment for the claimant in light of her age. During the application process, the claimant turned 55, which placed her in another category from a vocational perspective that made it easier for a finding of disability.

It is highly unlikely that the claimant’s medical and vocational history would have been fully developed if she had represented herself, which would have increased the chances of her application being denied again. It is possible that the claimant’s application may eventually have been remanded and reversed, but that process could have taken years.

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