Providing a voice for the disabled worker
Why you need professional representation
I have been practicing in the areas of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability appeals since 1992. I say that I provide a voice for the disabled worker because most times, it feels like the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not listening to your cry for help. Many times I hear myself talking to my clients, explaining a denial of benefits, saying things like, “You are dealing with an apathetic government bureaucracy that is not interested in the hardship that you are facing. SSA does not care that you cannot pay your mortgage and the bank is threatening foreclosure, again. SSA does not care that you can’t pay your rent and your landlord is threatening eviction. SSA does not care if you have no insurance and you have no money to see the doctor or get your medication. SSA does not care that no one will hire you, even though you would try and work if you could. SSA just wants you to go away and are actually hoping that you will not appeal.”
Sound jaded ? Why do I say these things ? Because after 20 plus years of dealing with this beast called the Social Security Administration, I’ve seen that the numbers don’t lie, they don’t change – ever. Each year (every six months) SSA has to publish the allowance and denial rates of the SSDI/SSI disability cases that are processed, and the numbers always stay the same – 67% of all cases, across the board, nationwide get denied at the initial application stage. 88% of all cases get denied again on the first appeal, or the “Request For Reconsideration” stage, and then 56% of all claims are denied again after a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). In all these years that I have been analyzing these numbers, there has never been any kind of significant change in the allowance and denial rates. That is why I am so jaded about your chances. That is why you need a professional who is well experienced in this area of the law. The odds quite frankly are not in your favor. By hiring an attorney, there is now a balance to the equation that you would not otherwise have, facing off against SSA on your own. I make sure that your voice is heard, and SSA cannot ignore your appeals.
How my process works
If you choose to retain my firm to assist you with your SSDI/SSI disability application or appeal, you will be hiring a “boutique” law firm that only concentrates in cases that have a high likelihood of success. What do I mean by that ? We screen our cases very carefully to determine whether or not your case is likely to be paid by SSA. When you call my office, you will speak with my paralegal, Olga Mejia, and she will want to spend approximately 30 minutes with you on the phone, asking detailed questions about you and your life, and specifically why you can’t work, or why you are “disabled”. That will actually be one of the first questions that she asks you, “When did you last work, and why did you stop working ?” Olga will ask you this question because this is step one of the “Sequential Evaluation Process” that SSA uses to determine whether or not you meet their guidelines for “disability” – “Are you working ?” If so, the inquiry ends there, and you are found “Not disabled”. You may have heard that you can still work part time and still be considered disabled. You may know someone that works part time or “under the table” and still receives SSDI/SSI disability benefits. Those people are not my clients. We only represent individuals who are totally disabled and not able to work. Establishing disability according to the SSA rules is difficult enough without trying to convince a judge that you are disabled, but are still working. If you are still working, but will be resigning from your position soon due to a medical problem, we are very much interested in speaking with you. We like to be involved in your case as early as possible.
I am the attorney who will be representing you
After Olga completes the initial interview with you, you will then speak with me, your attorney. I am the only attorney that will be handling your case. I am not a volume practitioner with thousands of cases. We are not a national law firm with multiple offices around the United States. Our office has been located in Miami, Florida for the last 15 years, and we concentrate in disabled workers residing in South Florida. I have argued appeals before the Administrative Law Judges at the Miami and the Fort Lauderdale Offices of Disability Adjudication & Review, and the United States District Courts for the Southern and Middle Districts of Florida for over 15 years. I know the judges, and they know me. You will not be handed off to an associate attorney located in a satellite office in your area. I will personally analyze the information you provide to Olga, and I will then look to SSA’s Listing of Impairments and/or the Medical Vocational Guidelines to determine whether or not you should be entitled to SSDI/SSI disability benefits.
You will then have a telephone conference with me – your attorney. You will speak with me immediately, the same day you call in if I am in the office and not in court. If I am not in the office to speak with you immediately, Olga will schedule a telephone conference on a mutually convenient date and time to discuss your case. You will not be calling a massive phone bank, directed to a paralegal or associate only if you know their extension number. When you call our office you will speak to us, and if all the lines are busy and you go to voicemail, we make it a point to return all of our calls within the next business day.
We will all work together on your case
If I determine that you have a viable claim that should be awarded, and you decide to retain my services, we will be working together on your case. What do I mean by that ? We are a small firm. Olga and I work together on every aspect of your case, and we also expect you to be actively involved. Throughout the course of your application and appeals, SSA will have multiple, lengthy forms that they will expect you to complete. Yes, you will have to complete the forms, I can not complete them for you. Of course, we are happy to assist you with the forms, and I will review the forms to ensure that they are complete and include all of the necessary information, but ultimately, the responsibility for completing these forms rests with you. Furthermore, in order to prove your case, I will need medical evidence. You as the claimant have the burden of proof. You are required to establish that you are disabled according to the law. The evidence that we use to prove your case are medical records, diagnostic studies (MRIs, nerve conduction studies, CT scans, EKG reports), and opinions from your treating doctors that support your allegations of disability. In fact, treating physician opinions are the best evidence that we can use to prove your disability, and this is also where I expect you to be actively involved. Olga is very good at obtaining your treatment records, hospital records, and the like. However, many times the doctors offices will not pay any attention to our interrogatories or the medical evaluation forms that we send for the doctor to complete. We have found that the best way to get supporting opinions from your doctors, is to have you present the report to the doctor personally. The doctor does not have to have any special training in “disability law” to complete these forms. In fact, the only requirement is that they be a “treating physician”, a medical professional who sees you on a regular basis, for an extended period of time – someone who knows your medical condition best, and someone who is in the best position to render opinions about your ability or inability to work. The law is very clear that SSA, and the ALJs that hear your case, have to give the most evidentiary weight to the treating physician opinions, if those opinions are supported by that doctor’s treatment notes and the objective diagnostic studies. We will expect you to present the evaluation forms directly to your treating physicians. If you are not treating with a doctor, you will have to get into treatment as soon as possible. It is not likely that you will be awarded disability benefits, and no judge will be convinced that you are disabled, if you are not seeing a doctor on a regular basis.