How long is this going to take ?
The average processing times that we typically see: 3 – 5 months for SSA/DDS to process the initial application filed online; 3 months to process the first appeal – the “Request For Reconsideration”; and 15 months to get a hearing decision from the Fort Lauderdale hearing office, and over 19 months to get a hearing decision from a judge in the Miami hearing office.
Can’t you make this go faster ? I heard if I hired a lawyer I will get a hearing faster.
We will do all that we can to push your case ahead as hard and as fast as we can. We work hard to see that your paperwork is returned to SSA as soon as humanly possible, and your appeals are filed immediately upon receipt of a denial of benefits. However, there are very few instances where we can have the judge’s office “expedite” your appeal, or move your case ahead to the front of the line. A well developed medical record and supporting opinions from treating physicians can certainly help to move your case along faster in the system. However, beware of attorneys or “disability advocates” who promise that they can get you a hearing date or disability decision faster. We are all dealing with the same government agency and the same hearing offices. The average processing times are published by SSA because those processing times hold true for all cases, and not just a select unfortunate few. I can not, and will not ever promise you something that is outside of my ability to provide. What I will promise you is that we will diligently monitor your file to ensure that your case does not “fall through the cracks”, the medical evidence is fully developed, and you are prepared to provide the best testimony possible when you sit before the judge and have to answer questions under oath.
You’re telling me that this whole process is going to take over two years ?!! What do people do? How am I supposed to survive?
Toughest, most frequent question I have to answer. I don’t know. What are you going to do ? You will find that as your attorney, advisor, and counselor at law, I am going to hit you right between the eyes with what you are facing, dealing with SSA. I cannot pay your mortgage payment or your rent. I cannot put food on your table, so I am going to make you face the brutal reality that is your situation from day one. If you are serious about this case, like I am, and you know that you are not going to be able to work during the course of this case, what are you going to do ? All I can tell you is that every person’s situation is different. Some people can survive off their savings, some people have had the foresight to pay for private long term disability insurance benefits while they were working. Other people have to rely on friends or family members to support them, and some people have to rely on assistance from the county or the state – food stamps or section 8 housing for example.
Why does it take so long to process my claim/appeal?
Remember, we are dealing with a government agency that is mired in inefficient bureaucracy. SSA obviously does not warrant a reputation for their speedy disposition of cases. With the aging of the “BabyBoomers”, SSA has been inundated with new applications for benefits and there are literally millions of claims pending. That, complicated with less money allocated to SSA for personnel and resources, and events like “government shutdowns”, the backlog of cases at hearing offices around the country is unworkable.
I am not working and I don’t have any money to pay for an attorney, how are you paid?
In most cases, our initial consultation to determine your eligibility for benefits is free. If you are not currently receiving benefits, and you hire us to appeal a denial of benefits from SSA, we work on a “contingency fee” basis, meaning our fee is contingent upon a successful award of benefits to you. In that case, if we are successful in proving that you are disabled, SSA has to back up and pay you for all the months that we can show you have been wrongfully denied. At the end of the case, you would be entitled to a retroactive benefits payment, or “back pay”, and my fee is a one time fee of 25% of your retroactive benefits. If we are not successful in winning your case, then 25% of $0 is $0, and we will not charge you a dime for our services. Attorney fees in SSDI/SSI cases are established by federal statute and are authorized by SSA.
Unfortunately however, a contingency fee agreement does not work in all cases. For example, if you are currently receiving benefits but are facing a continuing disability review, there are no retroactive benefits to derive a contingency fee from and you would be responsible for paying our fees directly. Likewise, if you are facing an “overpayment” situation that you are contesting, or want to request a waiver, we would not be able to work on a contingency fee basis and you would be responsible for paying our fee. The fees in those cases would be dependent upon the complexity of the continuing disability review, and the amount of the overpayment.
What about expenses ? Do I have to pay an ‘expense deposit?
No. If I decide to undertake representation in your case, I will not require an expense deposit. I realize that many firms require a $350.00 “cost retainer” as a prerequisite to their representation - we do not. I will advance costs for medical records, postage, copy fees, long distance telephone, etc. However, if we are successful in your case, we will ask you to reimburse us for these case costs after you receive your retroactive benefits. Again, if we are not successful in winning your case, we do not expect to be reimbursed, and you will not owe us a dime.
That’s given me a lot to think about, I’m not sure I can stop working, what do you suggest?
I think you should think about it, very carefully. I think you should consider how you are going to survive throughout the lengthy appeals process, and I think you should look yourself in the mirror and decide whether or not you can work. Since we pride ourselves in representing “disabled workers”, we also recognize that this may be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever have to make. Discuss all of this with your spouse, your friends and family. Remember, the issue here is not whether or not any one will hire you, the issue is whether or not you can work due to a medical condition, or a combination of medical impairments. If you have struggled with this decision, but finally admitted to yourself that you are no longer able to work, DO NOT WAIT to file your application for disability benefits. The faster you get the process started, the faster you will have this process completed. Most importantly remember, if you have already had an application or appeal for benefits denied, you only have 60 days to appeal that denial of benefits, and there is no time to waste. SSA can be very strict with their appeal deadlines, and if you miss the appeal date you will probably have to start all over again and file a new application.