Did you know you have the right to representation before the Social Security Administration (SSA)? When you appear for a hearing for Social Security disability if you do not have a representative, the first thing the officer or judge SHOULD do is ask you if you want a representative. If you or someone you know has a learning disability, you should be sure and understand this right or make sure you are with them to help them understand this right. The officer or Judge has a legal obligation to advise you of this right and allow a onetime postponement of the hearing for you to obtain such representation.
If you waive your right, they will have you sign a waiver stating you understand that you have been given this opportunity but do not wish to seek representation. They do all this because they know of the difficulties that come with navigating the Social Security disability process. I want to make it clear that you do not just have a right for a representative at the hearing, but from the very beginning of filing a claim. Many times people come in saying the worker at SSA told them they didn't need a representative or attorney until they was denied. That is not true. Over 80% of cases at the initial level are denied and your case does not have to be one of those. A representative can start helping you get the information needed from the start. In many cases, you will have to have a hearing, but it is never a waste of time to try and win at the beginning. Additionally, at a hearing, the judge will ask you questions that you may not understand the meaning and typically in all adult cases a vocational expert will testify at a hearing. Your representative should know how to handle those questions.
You may wonder "WHAT CAN A REPRESENTATIVE DO FOR ME?" Once you appoint a representative, he or she can act on your behalf before SSA in several ways including:
• Getting information from your Social Security file;
• Helping you get medical records or information to support your claim;
• Coming with you, or for you, to any interview, conference, or hearing you may have;
• Requesting a reconsideration, hearing, or Appeals Council review;
• Helping you and your witnesses prepare for a hearing and questioning any witnesses.
•Your representative will also receive a copy of the decision(s) we make on your claim(s).
Having an attorney or non-attorney representative to assist you is in your best interest. It really is difficult for the average person to understand the Social Security disability process and if you include having a mental impairment, serious physical problems, lack of family and social support, the Social Security disability process can be very overwhelming, time consuming, draining on your mental focus, and confusing. Both you and your representative are responsible for providing SSA with accurate information. It is illegal to provide false information knowingly or willfully. If you do, you may face criminal prosecution.
You can choose an attorney or other qualified individual to represent you. You can also have more than one representative. However, you can't have someone who, by law, cannot act as a representative, or someone the Social Security Administration has suspended or disqualified from representing others. Some organizations can help you find a representative or give you free legal services if you qualify. Most representatives do not charge a fee unless you receive benefits. Your Social Security office has a list of organizations that can help you find a representative if you are unsure where to look.
I also recommend word of mouth. Sometimes big firms or national companies can afford to invest lots of dollars in advertising to get your case, but I have seen firsthand where these same companies and firms do not invest a lot of effort in your case. I do not understand why, but many times the representatives do not know much about the case or the rules for winning your case. I think if you know someone who has used a local company that can be your best bet. It doesn't mean you are in constant contact with a representative or an attorney, but just that people in the office are there for you too.
There is a lot that goes into filing a claim and you have rights. Know your rights and know that one of them is that you have a right to a representative from the very beginning to the end! If you have filed for Social Security disability benefits or you may have additional questions regarding filing your claim. Please call one of the experienced disability representatives at Gardberg & Kemmerly, P.C. today at 251-343-1111 for a free consultation. Gardberg & Kemmerly specialize in helping the injured and disabled.