Disability benefits through Social Security can be a light at the end of a dark financial tunnel. But the process to obtain them can be intimidating. Here, we will discuss the assistance available to you when you apply for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
A representative can help you at all stages of the process. Your representative cannot charge you a fee without prior approval from Social Security Administration (SSA), but they can ask you for money upfront, as long as funds are placed in a separate trust or escrow account. A representative does not need to be an attorney, but there are some advantages to hiring an experienced Social Security disability attorney at the onset.
Although SSA sets criteria for anyone to be a representative, adept disability attorneys must undergo more rigorous training to represent you, including obtaining both four-year undergraduate and three-year law school degrees and passing a state bar examination. Additionally, only an attorney can represent you at the final stage of appeals in Federal District Court. They are also bound by a high ethical standard of behavior, and everything you discuss is protected by attorney-client privilege.
Although many people do not seek the help of an advocate until after they have applied and received an initial denial letter, you can seek assistance at any point during the process. Competent representation could make or break your ability to qualify for benefits, especially at the hearing stage.
After you have appointed a representative to work on your case, he or she can gather information from your Social Security file, attend a conference, interview, or hearing with you, obtain medical records to support your claim, submit appeals, and help you prepare for and ask questions at your hearing. Your representative will receive copies of any decisions Social Security makes.
If you do not know whom to appoint as your representative, organizations exist to help you find one or even provide you with free legal services if you qualify. Your local SSA office will have a list of these organizations and can direct you to them. You are allowed to have more than one representative, but you must tell SSA in writing who they are as soon as you decide through the Appointment of Representative form.
In the event that you do not need help yet, but you think you might in the future, the Strengthening Protections for Social Security Beneficiaries Act of 2018 allows emancipated minors, capable adults, and SSDI and SSI beneficiaries to appoint a representative in advance. Should you become unable to make decisions for yourself, this person can take over for you and manage your benefits. You can designate this individual at the time you apply or after you have already started receiving benefits.