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Winning SSDI Benefits: Expert Advice

Part 1 of 4 - Guide to Winning SSDI Benefits on the First Try

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Updated April 29, 2014

Stanley Denman, an attorney in Dallas, Texas who specializes in Social Security Disability representation, appeared in our chatroom on June 13, 2000. Mr. Denman answered our questions about how to have the best chance of winning SSDI benefits on the first try.

Question: Specific diseases and conditions are included in the Social Security Administration's Listing of Impairments. If a person's specific disease appears on the list does that assure they will be awarded SSDI?

Stan:  No. The Listing of Impairments sets out specific criterion for many illnesses that if present will result in a favorable disability finding. In general, the criterion for any given medical condition are difficult to meet, and reflect a very serious illness. Two points are quite important about the "Listings":

  • First, if your medical condition does not meet a listing, it does not mean you lose. Rather SSA must move to the next step in the analysis process.
  • Secondly, if your medical illness does not have a listing (as many do not) it simply means you do not have the listings as an opportunity to win. You can still secure your disability benefits.

As a lawyer, I do not see many cases of arthritis where the listing is met.

Question: Once a person has become unable to work and they make the decision to apply for Social Security Disability, what are the initial steps they should take to begin the application process?

Stan: Contact the Social Security Administration to file a claim. Be prepared to give the day you feel you became disabled, why you feel you are disabled, and have the name, address and phone number of your doctors and any hospital or clinic where you were treated for your impairment. Go to your local Social Security office and file an application, or call the toll free number (1-800-772-1213) to file.

Question: When do you advise a person to consider contacting a specialist in Social Security Disability representation (i.e. a lawyer)? Is a lawyer required at the onset of the disability application process or not really needed until the applicant receives notification that they have been denied benefits?

Stan: Attorneys have traditionally not become involved until the claimant has been denied benefits. Undoubtedly many claimants who are clearly disabled believe they will have needlessly paid an attorney fee if they win initially, and many attorneys believe collecting a fee on such an initial win to be unfair to the client. However, in general, good representatives prefer early involvement because issues can be identified and dealt with early on. Since lawyers are paid a percent of back benefits (typically 25%) the attorney fee paid on an early win will be rather modest. We advise that claimants begin looking for good counsel early on by interviewing prospective lawyers. Even if you have not yet been denied social security benefits, you may find retaining an attorney makes sense for you.

Question: Please list the compelling reasons for a person to obtain representation by a Social Security Disability specialist as opposed to undergoing the process unrepresented?

Stan: While the Social Security Disability assessment process was initially designed to make it easy for claimant’s to represent themselves, it did not take long for attorneys to become involved. Those that are cynical about lawyers may believe that attorneys have simply found another market. In reality, legal representation in a Social Security Disability case is very valuable. The Social Security Disability rules have become increasing complex. The government knows the rules for assessing disability; the claimant does not. Few people would think about treating a life threatening illness "on their own", yet many inexplicably think they are competent to represent themselves before the Social Security Administration on their disability claim. Most disabled have their hands full in coping with the life changes that their illness brings. Trying to learn the details of the Social Security Disability assessment system while coping with these changes is unwise.

Question: Statistically, what percentage of applicants are awarded SSDI on the first attempt?

Stan: 1997 statistics show that 32% of claimants win without the need for appeal.

Go On To Part 2 --- Guide To Winning SSDI Benefits --->

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