In part 1 of this post, we described how an attorney can help an applicant for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with their claim. Most people without legal training understandably find challenging the intricate rules, regulations and procedures that determine a person’s eligibility for benefits when their medical impairments prevent meaningful work.
An experienced, knowledgeable lawyer can help to level the playing field between the Social Security Administration (SSA) that administers these programs, and the claimant. At every step, an attorney can help develop the evidence, monitor that the agency follows the law and advocate for the client’s claim. This lessens the pressure on the claimant who is sick or injured and likely struggling with the financial and personal stress of being unemployed, unable to work and facing disability.
By the numbers
SSDI is one of two federal disability benefit programs. This disability insurance program is for disabled people with fairly regular work histories during which they contributed through payroll deduction to the program’s trust fund. SSI provides a monthly cash benefit to disabled adults with limited resources who do not have the work record for SSDI eligibility.
According to a new, in-depth article in Mother Jones:
- SSA gets about 2 million disability benefit claims annually.
- The agency only approves about one-third at the initial application.
- SSA still denies most at the reconsideration stage, the first level of review after the initial denial.
- After a reconsideration denial, the claimant can request a hearing before an SSA administrative law judge (ALJ) after which the judges approve about half of the claims heard.
- Of those denied after a hearing, more than half eventually get approval.
- SSA requires ALJs to decide 500 to 700 claims annually, not leaving much time for deeper dives into complex cases.
- Bankruptcy and even death are not rare for those waiting years for approval.
The Mother Jones article describes another reason having a lawyer at the ALJ hearing is important. In some cases, the agency must call a vocational expert to testify about whether statistical data supports the finding that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy for a person with the claimant’s working limitations from their physical and mental impairments. The regulations and analysis of this question are highly complex and having a lawyer there to question the expert about their premises and conclusions can be valuable to a claim as it can be easy for the expert to make mistakes.
After the ALJ stage, a claimant can appeal to the SSA Appeals Council and then to the federal court system.