Why You Should Hire a Lawyer, and Not an Advocate, in a Social Security Case
Through the Social Security Administration (SSA), the federal government provides various types of benefits to qualifying individuals. For many seriously injured or disabled workers, obtaining Social Security benefits is critical to supporting themselves, getting the medical treatment they need, and living a comfortable life. However, the SSA’s most recent statistics show that the majority of first-time applicants’ claims are denied. A denial – whether based on a technical deficiency with the application or a lack of medical documentation – can result in a significant delay in the receipt of benefits. Thus, workers who are serious about obtaining Social Security benefits should reach out to a dedicated Kentucky disability attorney for assistance. While it may be tempting to contact one of the many Social Security “advocates” who make exaggerated claims of their successes, doing so may reduce the chances of securing benefits in a timely manner.
At the Kentucky Social Security law firm of Hessig & Pohl, we help workers obtain the benefits they need and deserve after experiencing a disability. With decades of experience successfully handling both initial applications and SSDI appeals, our dedicated attorneys are an invaluable resource for those seeking to obtain these essential government benefits.
About one in four 20-year-old workers will experience disability at some point in their careers.
In 2018, Social Security Disability Insurance benefits were paid to over 10 million people.
In 2018, the average age of an SSDI recipient was 55 years old.
Nearly 34 percent of all SSDI recipients qualified for benefits based on diseases related to the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
There is about an equal number of women and men receiving SSDI benefits.
One in seven SSDI recipients also receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.
According to the SSA, the most common reasons for denial:
- Able to do another type of work: 30 percent
- Able to do usual past work: 24 percent
- Impairment is not severe: 24 percent
The average monthly SSDI payment in 2019 was $1,234. This amount increased to $1,260 in 2020.
As of December 2019, 1,001,700 people in Kentucky received SSDI benefits.
- 618,077 were retired workers
- 191,326 were disabled workers
- 74,232 were the spouses or parents of deceased workers
- 35,044 were spouses of living, but disabled workers
- 82,021 were children of living, but disabled workers
In total, 677,417, or about 68 percent, of all SSDI recipients in Kentucky were over the age of 65.
In 2019, the Social Security Administration paid out nearly $1.3 billion in Kentucky SSDI benefits.
According to the Social Security Administration, only about 45 percent of disabled workers who apply for SSDI will receive benefits.
The approval rate for SSDI claims decreased significantly between 2000, when nearly 55 percent of all applicants received benefits, and 2010, when just 33 percent of claims were approved.
Technical denials, which are denials based on non-medical reasons, comprise about 47 percent of all claims.
Approval rates for common impairments:
- Multiple Sclerosis – 68 percent
- All types of cancer – 64 percent
- Respiratory disorders – 47 percent
- Joint disorders (including osteoarthritis) – 40 percent
- Mood and anxiety disorders – 37 percent
- Back problems – 34 percent
Approval rates tend to increase for those applicants who attend an SSDI hearing:
- Multiple Sclerosis – 80 percent
- Respiratory disorders – 66 percent
- Joint disorders (including osteoarthritis) – 64 percent
- Back problems – 63 percent
- Mood and anxiety disorders – 59 percent
The Importance of a Social Security Attorney
The Social Security Administration does not require an attorney to prepare and file a claim for SSDI benefits. On the one hand, this makes the process more accessible for workers to obtain benefits. Disabled workers looking to get Social Security benefits have likely seen the advertisements of companies and individuals offering to help them obtain SSDI benefits. However, workers should be wary of the claims made by Social Security advocates. These non-lawyer advocates frequently boast success rates of up to 95 percent; however, in reality, these claims are inflated and inaccurate.
Below are the key reasons why a disabled worker should refrain from paying a social security advocate and should opt to retain an experienced Kentucky social security attorney instead:
The Social Security Administration allows anyone to serve as a social security advocate, provided they meet the following requirements:
- A college degree, or equivalent training or work experience;
- Complete a criminal background check;
- Purchase liability insurance;
- Pass a social security examination; and
- Complete continuing education requirements.
On the other hand, a Kentucky social security lawyer must possess an undergraduate degree, a law degree, and complete ongoing Continuing Legal Education courses to ensure that they remain up-to-date with the ever-changing state of the law.
Social security advocates are not regulated to the extent that attorneys are regulated. While the SSA requires that Social Security advocates complete the bare-minimum requirements, attorneys are subject to the local rules governing an attorney’s conduct. For example, there are very few regulations on what a Social Security advocate can state in an advertisement. On the other hand, SSDI attorneys are ethically prohibited from advertising a “success rate.” This is because providing statistics can be misleading, as every case and every client is different.
Attorneys are generally held to much higher ethical standards, both to the profession as well as to their clients. Social Security attorneys are required to zealously represent their clients at every stage of the process, keep their clients up-to-date with the status of their case, and stay abreast of all relevant changes in the law. Any attorney who fails to provide effective representation to their clients can be reported to the state bar association, and may be subject to disciplinary proceedings. On the other hand, there is little to no accountability for Social Security advocates. Thus, when a disabled worker hires an attorney, they can rest assured that they are in capable and experienced hands.
Among the most crucial skills that a Social Security attorney possesses is the ability to cross-examine witnesses effectively. If an initial claim is denied, the worker can request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. At this hearing, the SSA will call a vocational expert. A vocational expert is an expert witness called by the SSA who will testify to the applicant’s condition, the limitations it imposes, and their ability to perform the necessary tasks of their job. The vocational expert is familiar with available positions in the current job market as well as the skills required to perform particular jobs. Often, a vocational expert’s testimony can be harmful to an applicant’s case, as they will typically recommend other jobs that the worker could perform. If the administrative law judge agrees with the vocational expert, a worker’s claim will be denied.
A dedicated Louisville social security attorney can effectively cross-examine a vocational expert, highlighting flaws in their assumptions. If an attorney can discredit the vocational expert’s opinion, it is more likely that the judge will not rely on the expert’s recommendations. While a social security advocate will be allowed to cross-examine a vocational expert, advocates do not have the legal training that attorneys do, likely decreasing their ability to effectively cross-examine the witness.
Experience is key when it comes to obtaining social security benefits. Understandably, the vast majority of workers have no experience in this area of law. While the experience of social security advocates and social security attorneys will vary based on the individual, attorneys who practice in this very specific area of law are more likely to have seen – and successfully handled – a wide range of issues. Indeed, if a Social Security advocate encounters an unfamiliar issue, they will often turn to an experienced attorney for advice and assistance.
Seeing a Case Through to the End
The Social Security Administration does not require a worker to hire an attorney or an advocate to apply for benefits. However, the majority of SSDI claims in Kentucky are initially denied by the SSA. The SSA provides for a specific appeals procedure. First, the applicant can request reconsideration in front of another SSA employee who was not involved in the initial determination. If the claim is again denied, the worker can then schedule a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The next step is to request a review by the Appeals Council. Finally, if each of the previous methods proved unsuccessful, an applicant can file a federal court case.
While an advocate is legally permitted to assist with some of these procedures, only a licensed attorney can handle federal court cases. Thus, there is a chance that an applicant who chooses to work with a social security advocate will eventually need to hire an attorney to file a case in federal court.
Despite the superior education, experience and, in many cases, effectiveness, social security lawyers typically charge very similar amounts to social security advocates. The reason for this is that the SSA regulates the amount that both attorneys and advocates can charge for their services. Under the current SSA rules, an attorney or an advocate cannot charge more than 25% of the past-due disability benefits owed to the claimant, with a cap of $6,000.
Reach Out to a Kentucky Social Security Attorney for Assistance with Your SSDI Claim
If you have a disability, you may be entitled to Social Security benefits. At the Louisville social security law firm of Hessig & Pohl, we help clients prepare and submit their SSDI claims. We also represent applicants who have applied on their own and have been denied. With our decades of experience on your side, you can rest assured that you are in good hands. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation with one of our Kentucky disability lawyers today, call 502-777-1111. Calling is free, and because we work on a contingency basis, we will not charge a fee unless we can help you obtain benefits.
Marty fought for me when the insurance company denied my claim. We sued and got the insurance limits.