Chances of Getting Disability After a Hearing
“What Are My Chances of Getting Disability After a Hearing?”
When you make claim for Social Security Disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA), with the help of North Carolina Disability Determination Services (DDS), reviews your medical records and your work and earnings history and decides whether you qualify for disability benefits.
There is a two-step process – first your “initial application” and then “reconsideration” – at this level within the SSA’s administrative system. When DDS and SSA decide that the answer is “no,” you must appeal that denial to get a hearing on your claim before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who will decide whether you meet the SSA’s definition of “disabled.” Your ALJ will make a new decision in your case, totally independent from what the SSA and DDS have decided at the lower levels.
Disability Hearing: a “Make or Break” Moment?
The ALJ hearing and decision is the most crucial stage of any disability claim, and it is the one where the help of a lawyer is the most important. For that reason, you should take every available step to maximize your chances of getting your disability claim approved by the ALJ at your hearing. The best way to do this is to get help from a knowledgeable, experienced Social Security disability attorney who has worked in the system for many years and knows how to most effectively present your case to the judge.
An Attorney Can Increase Your Chances at the Disability Hearing Level
When people who apply for disability benefits learn that they are not required to hire and pay an attorney, many think they can represent themselves and save money. Technically, this is true — if you win your case without an attorney, obviously you do not have to pay a fee. But statistics gathered over many years have shown that disability applicants who are represented by an attorney are roughly twice as likely to win their cases than those who represent themselves.
Saving money by not paying an attorney does not help you if you do not win your case.
“How Can an Attorney Help with My Disability Hearing?”
Why do your odds of success go up so dramatically when you use an attorney at the hearing stage of your disability appeal? There are many reasons.
The most important evidence in any disability claim is medical records. Attorneys and their staff know how to identify, gather, and submit your medical records in the proper form and to the proper place. Experienced disability lawyers have reviewed thousands of medical records over many years. They know how to locate the most important information in your medical records to bring to the attention of your ALJ. They know how to identify gaps in your medical records and, when possible, fill them, or at least be able to explain them.
SSA “Consulting” Doctors
In many cases, SSA will send disability applicants to one of its own “consulting” doctors for an examination and to get that doctor’s opinions as to your ability to function. Many of these so-called “consultative examinations” are done very poorly by doctors who may or may not be qualified for their positions. Experienced disability lawyers know how to challenge these “consultative” opinions so that the ALJ is not given room to rely on them in denying you benefits.
Your Own Doctors
Almost as important as medical records are the opinions of your own treating doctors about your ability to perform normal, everyday activities and to simply be able to show up for work, day after day, considering your medical conditions. Your attorney can help you gather this medical opinion evidence in the proper format so that is as impactful as possible on your ALJ.
All the ALJs run their hearings and make their decisions using a more-or-less standard, uniform framework for how a case is evaluated. One piece of that framework is testimony from a “vocational expert” or “VE” for short. A VE is a person with experience in the job market and knowledge on what it takes to perform different types of work. VEs have access to large databases of jobs so that they can tell the ALJ what the job prospects might be for a person with your type of physical or mental problems, given your age, education, and level of training and education.
Vocational evidence is taken in a somewhat technical manner at hearings, and claimants are often bewildered by it. The way the ALJ asks the questions, and the way the VE answers them, can be the determining factor in whether you win or lose your case. Having the assistance of a disability lawyer who knows how to critically examine a VE’s opinions about your ability to work can be crucial in improving your chances at getting disability at the hearing level.
Increase Your Chances at Getting Disability with an Attorney at the Hearing Level
Disability attorneys have attended hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hearings. They know the types of questions asked by the ALJs in general. And more importantly to you and your case, they know the preferences of the individual judges, because they have probably appeared before your judge before. Your lawyer will be able to tell you exactly what to expect from your hearing – how it will be conducted, about how long it may take, and the kinds of things to say and avoid saying to give you the best possible chance of being awarded benefits. Going into a hearing with a lawyer is a lot less stressful than going without one — and can dramatically increase the chances that you get disability benefits awarded at your hearing.
“On the Record” Disability Rulings
In fact, sometimes the assistance of a lawyer might make your hearing unnecessary. In certain situations where the claim is very strong, an attorney will submit to the ALJ a written request for an “on the record” favorable decision. This is known as an “OTR.” The attorney points out to the judge the portions of your medical and work history that combine to make your case one that should almost certainly be paid. If the judge agrees, he or she will notify you and your lawyer that the hearing is not necessary and issue a favorable decision finding you to be disabled. This does not happen often, but when it does, it can save you a lot of time and stress.
Talk with a Disability Lawyer Today
Bottom line: all other things being equal, people who hire lawyers to represent them in cases that get to the hearing level win their cases about twice as often as those who do not. If you want to put your case in the best possible position to end favorably, consult with an experienced North Carolina disability lawyer today.
At Riddle & Brantley, our disability team has helped hundreds of North Carolinians get the benefits they need and deserve. The team is led by attorney Scott Scurfield, a Board-Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability who has been recognized by the NC State Bar for his experience and expertise handling these specific cases.
Call 1-800-525-7111 today for a free, no-obligation consultation. There are no upfront costs and you won’t pay any attorney fees unless we win your case and you get disability benefits.
Justice Counts for North Carolinians with disabilities and we would love to help you however we can. Call 1-800-525-7111 or complete the fast and easy form below for a free consultation today.