The process of getting approved for Social Security disability benefits can take anywhere from a month to several years, depending on the circumstances of your situation. Attorneys have little control in speeding up the process, though an attorney can provide many benefits that may result in a faster approval of benefits.
The fastest way for you to start receiving disability benefits is to get your initial claim approved on the first round of review. When this happens, you do not have to wait for an appeal, which can take years.
If you decide to hire an attorney to assist with the application process, the right lawyer will know what the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for and can prevent mistakes that can result in a denial. Some ways a lawyer can help with the original application include:
- Completing the application while ensuring the information provided clearly indicates that you have a listed impairment
- Demonstrating that you cannot perform any work
- Gathering and presenting medical evidence of your impairments
- Seeking help from your medical providers to ensure the proper terminology is used when medically appropriate
- Seek expedited treatment of your application from the SSA if you have a terminal illness
A disability lawyer knows the language to use and the types of evidence that will most convincingly illustrate that you should qualify for disability benefits. Hopefully, having such a strong application will result in an approval in the first round.
The majority of people receive denials in the first round of review and the next step, or the first appeal, is called Reconsideration. At this stage, you can request an on the record (OTR) decision, but only with the help of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney, do you realistically have a chance of getting approved at this level. Currently, only 13.6% of appeals on Reconsideration are getting approved. This decision is made by a separate set of eyes at the Social Security Administartion who did not review the original applllication and supporting medical evidence. A lawyer can help obtain a favorable OTR decision in many ways, such as:
- Drafting a clear and legally sound letter or brief that meets all the criteria of the SSA and offers arguments why you deserve disability benefits; and
- Submit new medical records and supporting Residual Function Capacity Assessments and/or Medical Source Statements completed by your treating health care providers
Whether you had an attorney or not in the first round, denials are common and you may need to request an OTR decision on Reconsideration. It is at this stage that retaining legal counsel becomes very important, even more so than at the Application stage.
ALJ Hearing Approvals
If you are denied at the Reconsideration level, your case will proceed to a hearing in front of the ALJ. The average waiting time for a hearing is currently in in the 15 – 20 month range from the time the Request for Hearing is filed with the SSA. This is by far the most important time for you to have representation for many reasons that are too lengthy to discuss here. This is where you have the best chance of getting benefits awarded. If you win at this level, you will be awarded past due benefits out of which your attorney gets paid 25%, not to exceed $6,000.
Obtaining an ALJ hearing decision in your favor prevents the need to continue your case to the Appeals Council. There is one more level of appeal at the Federal District Court level. This is why disability cases can take years.
The is no fast-track to a Social Security disability approval. While a lawyer does not have a magic wand, they do have a thorough understanding of disability eligibility and can help increase the chances you may be approved early on in the process.
Waiting for disability benefits while you cannot work can be a stressful time. You should never hesitate to consult with a law firm that regularly represents clients with disabilities and works to get them the benefits they need and deserve under the law. A lawyer can evaluate the strength of your disability case and advise you how they might be able to help.