A Message from Lew: It’s Never Too Early to Hire a Lawyer
As disability lawyers we obviously want and need clients, and we believe that the services we provide for them are valuable.
Social Security Disability claimants can retain an attorney at any point in the process. Our clients are split about equally between those who have already started a claim when they hire us, and those for whom we are involved from the start. There are a number of reasons why retaining a lawyer sooner is always the better option.
From the claimant’s point of view, the hardest part of the process is the initial application. The forms are daunting and the time required to fill them out prevents many people from even filing. At Insler & Hermann, we help our clients complete the forms and we file the claim electronically, making this initial step as easy and stress-free as possible.
But the most compelling reason to hire an attorney as early as possible when applying for Social Security disability is the increased potential for winning the case at the Initial Application. While the conventional wisdom has always been that “everyone” is turned down the first time, we enjoy a great deal of success winning cases at the Initial Application (IA) level. Nationwide, about 35% of all claims are approved at IA and in what Social Security calls Region II, where we are located, it is closer to 50%. However we are successful in about 60% of the cases when we file the Initial Application for our clients.
When you consider that a lot of the cases that are approved initially are obvious or presumptive disabilities where no attorney was involved or needed to be, the fact that our firm wins such a large percentage of the more difficult cases is really a testimony to our staff and their ability to identify and develop cases at the earliest level.
Many people still try to do the initial application on their own and when they are denied (as 65% of all claims nationwide are), they give up, assuming they have no chance of success on appeal. In fact, the opposite is true and if they come to us in time, we can tell them that.
Others delay obtaining representation until their Initial Application is denied. The problem then is that they often don’t visit an attorney until they have missed the deadline to appeal, and they have to start the process all over, costing them months of delay. Our fee is typically the same no matter how much time we have spent on the case, and may even be lower if we win before a hearing.
Perhaps the most difficult situation for us as lawyers is trying to help those people who don’t hire us until they have a first and sometimes a second hearing date scheduled, even after being told at the first date that it would be in their best interest to hire a lawyer!
Unfortunately too many people do not understand that we cannot properly prepare their case, including reviewing their records and obtaining new evidence from their doctors, in the limited time before the hearing. We usually have to postpone these cases, and in some circumstances we even have to turn them down because it is too late. From our point of view, the longer we are involved in a claim, the better we get to know our client and the issues in his or her claim.
Others do not come to us until even later in the process, and we typically do not take cases on after a hearing has been held, unless there is the possibility of filing a new claim.
While it is clearly better from our point of view to have more time involved in the case so that we can prepare as thoroughly as possible, from the claimant’s point of view the earlier the better is also true. If you know anyone who is wrestling with whether or not to seek out legal help for a disability claim, please share this information with them, and urge them to find an attorney who is experienced in Social Security disability. We have offices in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, but for those living outside the New York metropolitan area, we can help find a skilled lawyer in their location.
Message from Gabe:
Sometimes the SSA Makes Mistakes
Understanding the Regulations
T came to us in the middle of April 2012 for help with a Disability claim.
When I reviewed the material that she brought me, it was clear that the SSA denial was more than just a typically misguided medical denial.
T, a widow whose youngest child had turned 16 in January 2012 and who herself had just turned 50 in December 2011, had applied for Disabled Widows’ Benefits alleging a disability due to a severe neuromuscular disease which began in 1997. Disabled Widows’ Benefits provide Social Security Disability benefits to a disabled widow or widower based on the deceased spouse’s earning history. This program was created in its current form in 1967 to protect individuals exactly like T, who was ineligible for Social Security Disability benefits on her own account because she had been a homemaker and thus had no independent earning history. Benefits are typically granted if a claimant is found medically disabled and turns 50 within 7 years of the death of the wage–earning spouse. An additional consideration is if the wage–earner died more than 7 years prior to the surviving spouse, and whether there are any children of the decedent who are minors or between age 16 and 23.
T had been denied based on the fact that ‘because she turned 50 more than 7 years after the death of her husband [she] thus was ineligible for benefits on his account.’ Although it was true that her application had been filed and also decided before she turned 50, the SSA had completely overlooked the other instance by which someone may collect Disabled Widows’ Benefits. In this case, T’s child turned 16 in January 2012 and thus T should have been entitled to Disabled Widows Benefits, assuming medical eligibility, after her child’s 16th birthday and her 50th birthday.
On review of her file, I noted that T had also filed for SSI as well and, while medically approved, she had been denied those benefits due to assets she had. Knowing that she had already been medically approved for SSI, I contacted the SS hearing office, where the case was pending review on her appeal, and brought the proper regulations to the attention of one of the managers, who presented the file to a Judge for review.
We received a notice from the Hearing Office awarding T Disability Widows benefits on May 5th, less than 2 weeks after T had come to us for our help.
The lesson to learn from this case is that decision-makers at SSA make mistakes all the time, not just in their analysis of the medical evidence but also in their reading of the clear regulations and guidelines that are the basis of their decisions. Their analysis in non–medical decisions cannot ever be presumed to be correct. I am pleased that in this instance my intervention brought a quick turnaround to this case, and that we were able to get T the benefits which she deserves.
SPOTLIGHT ON OUR FAVORITE MEDICAL PROVIDER OF THE MONTH
This month we spotlight Ann Lerner, a Correspondence Rep with I.O.D., Information on Demand. She works out of Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and it is her job to get medical requests to us in a timely fashion. Recently she stood out in getting a rush job to us, and we always find her a pleasure to work with. Thank you, Ann!
A warm welcome to Jayne Lamana, who joined our staff here at Insler & Hermann earlier this month. Jayne is our new Intake Representative, and will often be the first person at our firm new inquiring clients speak with. She helps them figure out if they have a valid claim, and then sets up their appointment with one of our lawyers.
Jayne worked for most of her career as an Administrative Assistant in the Westchester school district, and more recently for a law firm that represents banks in foreclosure proceedings. She says that working at Insler & Hermann is “the total opposite, for sure!” and she feels grateful to have the opportunity to help people in need.