Your Social Security Disability Hearing is too important to be trusted to someone you’ve seen on a television commercial for 30 seconds, but never met, nor does the lawyer have any plans to meet you. Give me a call right away if you hear these big offices say "we'll mail the papers right out to you." I'll bring you in to meet you or drive to meet you as soon as I can. It's really important to meet your lawyer as soon as possible.
The rules of the Social Security disability system are extremely complex, with over 500 pages of fine print. I research these pages continually to stay up to date, because the details can either make your case or crush it.
You can avoid the common mistakes that I have seen people make. Fill out the simple form to the right, or call me at 1-877-336-4300 (toll free) for a free, completely confidential consultation. If you don't know what to do, this office can be a good place to start.
Contingent Fee is 25% of Retroactive Benefits
I work on a contingent fee basis. That means you only pay me if you win. The fee is usually 25% of your retroactive (past due) benefits. There is no further charge into the future.
You should know that all Attorneys using the United States Government Regulated Fee Process (anywhere in the United States) agree to contingent fees of not more than 25% of any past due benefits. The government regulates fees in Social Security Disability cases. Before I am paid, the government will review our fee agreement and approve my fee. The attorney fee will be withheld from your back pay and sent to me about the same time your back pay is sent to you.
You do not owe me any fee unless you win. (See below about why I think contingent fees are a good deal for society).
You are responsible to pay your doctor for copies of his/her medical reports or records. This is an investment that you need to make in your case and the cost of these items is between you and your doctor.
Contingency Fees - a good deal for society and you
I represent people in car, truck and motorcycle accidents, and disability cases, on a “contingency fee.” That means I don’t get paid for my work unless my client recovers something. This type of fee is especially valuable for injured or disabled individuals because:
- It gives everyone the opportunity to start a case without money “up front.”
- These fees promote efficiency and discourage frivolous claims by motivating lawyers to make sure that cases we accept have merit. It is a myth that lawyers like to take on “frivolous cases” in the hopes that some insurance company or the government will just turn over money – that just doesn’t happen in the real world. A good lawyer will tell you if your case lacks merit.
- If a case is unsuccessful, the injured or disabled person doesn’t end up bankrupted because of legal fees.
- These fees level the field and discourage negligent or illegal conduct by the wealthy or the government or the insured because these fee arrangements make the court house accessible to those that would otherwise be unable to afford legal services against a bigger, wealthier person or entity. This fee arrangement enables claims, with merit, to have their day in court.
Do I need a doctor to support my case?
Yes. The Social Security Administration cannot award Social Security Disability Benefits because you “say” you are disabled from working. You need a doctor (your primary care physician would be fine) to support your case. Think about it. The entire system is set up to provide benefits only when a disability prevents someone from doing any type of work. Contrary to what a lot of folks think, the system does not pay just because of a diagnosis. Instead, a diagnosis must also prevent working. The law reads: “We need evidence from acceptable medical sources to establish whether you have an… impairment…, medical reports should include…a statement about what you can still do despite your impairments based on your acceptable medical source’s findings…” (Federal Regulation Section 404.1513)
The Judges want some statement from a doctor indicating the physical or mental restrictions applicable to you. Your doctor’s notes alone are usually not enough. I urge my clients to talk to their physicians and ask for their support, with this rule in mind. Hopefully, your doctor will understand and take the time to fill out the necessary report (I will provide it for you to take), even though it can be a huge disruption for the doctor. A good doctor will help you, and most in our area are really good about it.
Is that green and white Social Security Statement that comes in the mail important?
Yes. That statement is very important. The Social Security Administration sends a statement every year to workers that have paid into the system. This statement usually arrives about three months before your birthday. It’s a record of your earnings for past years, and a summary of the estimated benefits you and your family may receive if you become disabled. (Or when you retire) You should view it as a letter from Social Security that basically says: This is the information we have about your work record; is it correct?
You should check this statement every year. The reported earnings and other information on the form need to be correct. You should check your name, your address, your Social Security number, and the amount of earnings reported by you or your employer for every year. If there is any error in the information, you need to get that resolved as quickly as possible with the administration.
Make sure you take the five minutes necessary to review this important document.
The lesson here is that if you work for someone else and they don’t report your earnings, you won’t be eligible for benefits no matter how badly you may be physically or mentally. Stay on top of this and it shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Does my condition qualify?
This question cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” since any condition can qualify you for benefits if the condition is severe enough and keeps you from performing all types of work that you could otherwise perform. The first thing to know is that the social security administration is not simply going to accept your statement that your physical or mental health is “severely impaired.” The rules require a physical or mental impairment must be shown by signs, symptoms, or lab findings from a health care provider. Your doctor’s records in support will be critical to proving your case. No one can win without medical proof.
Can I be working and get approved for benefits?
The answer is “probably not.” If you are performing “substantial or gainful” activity, you cannot get social security disability benefits. The law does allow you to earn up to a certain amount of money before the work is considered “gainful.” However, part time jobs, or jobs with restrictions, can be “substantial work.” This is a two part test. I always tell my client’s to work until it can’t be done any more, and then apply for benefits. There is no reason to have this issue around when it is hard enough to get benefits.
Isn’t it true that all lawyers would handle my case in the same way and do the same things?
This isn’t true at all. All lawyers have different educations, legal experiences, and different ways of thinking. You know some are just plain smarter than others. I will tell you one way that I think I am different from most other lawyers. I am a nut for the details! I don’t think any lawyer can pay more attention to the details in a case than I can. A case can go bad really quickly if the details are not managed. In the same way, a good case can go unproven if the details are missed.
You remember the nursery rhyme about the kingdom being lost because of want of a nail? (If you don’t know it you can Google it). That is so true in the law. In any Social Security case, I read each medical entry in a client’s medical records line by line. I do that so I can go over any “problem areas” in the records with my clients before the hearing. I want my clients to be prepared to address issues that may come up. In this regard, I have a huge advantage on the “big offices.” It’s harder for the bigger firms to pay attention to the details because their practices can tend to be about “numbers.”
What do you think is the biggest mistake a person can make for their SS Disability hearing?
Do you accept every case that calls your office?
No. Most people that come in to see me about a Social Security Disability Case want to know if I think they have a good case. I think I surprise a lot of people when I tell them that the fact that they are sitting in my office means I think I can help them. I talk to anybody that takes the time to call me about a disability case. Sometimes though, calls that come to my office are just not going to qualify for the benefits for different reasons, and I let that be known right away. I don’t mean to offend anyone or discount their problems, but I have been doing this work a long time and I have a pretty good idea what will win. So, if I make an appointment after a call, it means that the caller fits the profile to be “in play” for these benefits. Otherwise, I will not schedule an office appointment. A lot of people are surprised when they call the office to find out that I schedule my own appointments but that is why I do it. I think a lot of my clients would be surprised to learn that I have selected them to be my client just as they have selected me to be their lawyer. Hopefully it is an arrangement that works well for both of us.
I work on a contingent fee basis. That means you only pay me if you win the case. You would have some obligation to pay your doctor for reports or records that need to be sent in to the administration, but otherwise you don’t pay me a nickel unless you win your case!
One Reason Good Cases Aren't Approved.
A lot of very good Social Security disability cases are not approved because people don't say or write things in a way that will get a good case noticed.
Applying for Social Security disability benefits sure can be a complicated, and intimidating, process. To win, you have got to prove to the government that your disability prevents you from having a job. Any job! Anywhere!
There is a way to get this done and it isn’t the way most people would think. No, a note from your doctor saying you’re disabled, or can’t work, is not going to be enough. The Social Security Administration can pretty much ignore those notes. Because of the intricate rules of this program, it's in the government's nature to deny more disability claims than get approved, which is why it's important to get your claim filed right, starting with the very first document you submit to the Social Security Administration.
My office, Tony Houle law office, has 30 years of experience dealing with the complex rules of the Social Security disability system. I'll use my years of knowing what it takes to win in this system and prepare you for what's coming, and put you in the best position possible to win your case.
The Disability Wall
Sometimes, I view the Social Security Disability benefit approval process as a big wall with a door right in the middle. If you’re going to get approved for disability benefits, someone has to open that door for you. That door can be opened by either the claims examiner or typically, a judge. These people have almost exclusive control over opening up that door. The government has given a lot of power to these people over that “door,” and you have to give them what they need to do their jobs if the door is going to be open for you. It’s a lot easier to get the door open than get over the wall, around the wall, or under the wall. Actually, it is impossible to get into the system without someone opening the door for you.
The way the door opens is different in every case. It is different for every person. There is no “secret” to get the door opened in every instance. However, there are a couple of things that will improve your odds of getting that door open for you.
The first thing I would recommend is hiring someone to help you with the case. Unless this is your field of expertise and you spend all your time reading Social Security rules and attending disability hearings, let a professional help. (Please see my other article if you think your case is a “slam-dunk” and you don’t need any help.)
By professional, I mean a licensed lawyer. There are a lot of groups out there advertising on the Internet and on the television that offer services for disabled people but many times, they don’t send a lawyer to help you on your case. Instead, they send a “representative” to help you with your case. These people have no legal training, are not lawyers, and do not understand the rules any better than you do.
Instead, hire a lawyer to try to help you get that door opened on a contingent fee. The lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you win your case. A good lawyer knows what to do to help get that door opened within the framework of system.
The second thing would be to have a good relationship with your doctor. The “doorkeepers” are going to look very carefully at your doctor’s notes, reports, and opinions, and decide if they believe your doctor. Your doctors need to believe the severity of your condition and reflect that belief in notes and opinions. If the doctor confirms in his written reports and opinions that you are suffering greatly and have a severe injury or condition, especially if these things are supported by acceptable medical testing, your chances of getting benefits is going to be improved.
In any event, life sometimes throws a lot of walls in your way. With regard to Social Security disability, what are you doing to get through your wall?
Why You Should Involve a Lawyer in the Social Security Disability Process
When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, it's you versus an enormous government bureaucracy that by its nature can be predisposed to reject your claim. The Social Security Information office data ending fiscal year 2011 indicated that only about 34 percent of Social Security Disability initial applications get approved. No one wants to be in the 66 percent that gets denied and start on the long journey through the appeal process. Hiring an experienced lawyer can help you avoid some of the common mistakes that many people make when filing for disability benefits, such as:
- Exaggerating or misrepresenting the nature of your previous jobs.
- Waiting too long to apply for benefits.
- Not having your disability claim supported by a doctor's diagnosis.
- Continuing to work while applying for disability benefits.
- Naming an “onset date” that is sure to get your claim denied.
Unlike most Social Security disability firms, I want to meet with you, at length and as soon as possible, before we agree to do business together. I'll take on your case if I think you are genuinely a good candidate to win these benefits. If I don't think your case is likely to win at this time, for any reason, I'll tell you about that too and tell you what to do to get in a better place.
I think you'll have trouble finding this level of personal attention with the bigger firms and “disability mills,” where you call a long distance number and don’t actually get to meet an attorney. If you do get to meet an attorney at those places, you usually meet an inexperienced junior lawyer, or a paralegal, or a different lawyer from the one that will show up at the crucial Social Security disability hearing and help you present your case. The advantage at my office is that I am the one that will work on your case from start to finish. If you like that idea, give me a call so we can talk.
It is my judgment that it's best to hire a lawyer at the very start of the Social Security disability application process, whether you have already stopped working or are thinking about quitting work due to your medical condition. I have changed my mind on this over the years after seeing cases rejected because of simple mistakes that people make when they apply on their own.
My office has been representing clients who are in the process of filing a claim for a lot of years; since 1984 actually. I also represent individuals who have been rejected for disability benefits and have no choice but to either start the process all over again, or to ask for a hearing in the appeal process.
Social Security Disability Law
The Social Security Disability system provides a means of income for individuals who cannot work, due to an injury or illness. If you have paid Social Security taxes while gainfully employed, you may have a right to collect benefits to cover your lost wages in the form of disability income. You may also be eligible for Medicare.
As a general rule, you can only collect Social Security Disability Benefits if your impairment is “severe.” A severe impairment can be almost any type of physical or mental impairment if your impairment keeps you from being able to work, in any capacity, for at least 12 months.
In my experience, Social Security Disability claims are denied because the government claims examiner typically determines that you can do some type of work. Please remember this system is not a short term disability system and it is not a “same occupation” disability system. This disability program is a long term and permanent and total disability system. It will not pay you benefits if you are unable to perform the type of work you have always done. This system only pays you if you are unable to perform any work in light of your physical restrictions, age, education, and skill level. In addition, this system is heavily weighted in favor of individuals over 55 years old who have used their body to perform their work over the course of a lifetime, and now their body just cannot do the work anymore. The system makes it difficult for people under 55 years old, and especially under 50 years old, to qualify for benefits.
I know there are a lot of people getting these benefits that are less than 55 years old. You probably know someone yourself. However, please remember that this system is incredibly inconsistent. The same claim that would be approved on one particular day could very well be not approved on the next day if reviewed by a separate examiner. There is no value to comparing your case with your neighbor’s case or anyone else for that matter. All of these cases are decided on an individual basis and need to be addressed in that manner.
If your claim has been denied, my job is to put you in a better position to win than you could do by yourself. My plan for your case would be decided upon after we meet. In almost all cases I will gather evidence to support your claim, talk to you in the office several times before your hearing, draft a brief for review by the Judge assigned to your case, and prepare you for your testimony. Together, we will go over those things that are likely to make your case successful.
I know a lot of people meet their Social Security Disability Lawyer for the very first time at their hearing. I do not understand that at all. I would not want to meet my surgeon in the half hour before a surgery started. I don’t understand why anyone would settle for that sort of representation from their lawyer. One way that my office is different from a lot of others is that I want to meet with you before I take your case. I want to meet with you during the course of your case. Finally, I want to meet with you before your hearing as close to your hearing as we can.
Please remember that if your claim has already been denied, you have 65 days to request your appeal. If you wait too long without any good cause, then you will have to start the claims process all over again.
If you are unable to work because of an illness or injury and would like to talk to me about your case, please call me at your convenience.
Top Three Reasons to have a Lawyer for your Disability Case
Reason # 1 – You have nothing to lose
You have nothing to lose and plenty to gain by hiring a lawyer. A lawyer in your case will typically work on a 25% fee that is only collected if you win. All attorneys using the U. S Government regulated fee process (whether in Detroit, Southfield, Port Huron, anywhere) agree to contingent fees of not more than 25% of any past due benefits. A lawyer does not get paid otherwise. If I’m your lawyer, I’ll do everything possible within the rules to win your case for you. My business only profits if it gets results for you.
Reason # 2 – The rules are complex
The Social Security Disability field is complex. The rules for this program are at part 404 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. The rules take up 553 pages of that book. I’ll show you the book if you want. In addition, the Social Security Administration has its own set of operating rules and regulations. It has taken me since 1984 to learn this field, and more importantly, keep up to date in it. I know the right attorney can put you in a better position to win your case than you can on your own.
Reason # 3 – Your hearing
If you attend your hearing alone and lose, it will be too late to ask me to help you. The most important part of any Social Security Disability case is the hearing level. That is the one opportunity you get to meet a Social Security judge. Your case has to be presented and developed the right way. After the hearing, you never talk to a human being about your case again. If you lose your case at the hearing level, only paper appeals to the “Appeals Council” in Virginia are allowed permitted.
My policy is not to “jump in” and appeal any case if I haven’t been given the opportunity to represent you at your hearing. Usually, it is too late for me to “fix” a case after a hearing. You wouldn’t find many surgeons anxious to jump in and try to fix you if you tried to operate on yourself and then called only when the case was botched. BE SMART. Take the right attorney with you to your hearing.
Make sure you take a licensed attorney to your hearing. Some advertisers for Social Security Disability are not attorneys. They are business groups that offer to send a “representative” to your hearing for a profit. These “representatives” do not have any legal training and are not licensed attorneys. If your case needs to be appealed to U.S. District court, they can’t do it because they aren’t licensed attorneys.