It is highly recommended that one finds legal representation if they decide to dispute and file a claim against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a false determination in their Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. Luckily, there are lawyers specifically trained and well-informed in this type of law – known as SSI lawyers. Be prepared for a lot of acronyms.
What is the significance of an SSI lawyer?
It probably wouldn’t be best to have, say, a tax lawyer or civil rights lawyer fighting on your case for disability payments. That’s why it’s important to scout and find lawyers specifically geared toward your situation and have read, studied, and examined cases such as yours.
An SSI lawyer has specific knowledge in administrative law. This is a branch of law that judges the powers and responsibilities of agencies, boards, government entities, and other administrations. More often than not, as in the case with SSI, it’s a sect of law that deals with an administration denying the public a service of some kind, for instance terminating a family’s food stamp benefits over some questionable violations. It is no different with SSI disputes, so if you’re looking to correct a decision made by the SSA, an administrative law attorney is just the person for the job.
So what exactly is their role? An SSI lawyer will offer you legal guidance. Once you’ve consulted and chosen your lawyer, your next steps will be to sign an agreement that highlights the terms of working together. This agreement should cover the length of time they’ll be representing you, their pay rate, indemnities, scope of representation, and any other terms you and your lawyer agree to.
From there, they’ll assist in the initial application to the SSA. If this application is denied, and you’ve decided to appeal this decision, they’ll help concoct a legal strategy. They’ll let you know what kind of argument you can make and how to support it with evidence.
For instance, if you were denied by the SSA because they did not believe your disability impacted your daily life or work activity. Let’s then say, for example, your disability is rheumatoid arthritis, a painful disease that can majorly cripple one’s ability to use their hands, but isn’t always visible to the eye unless there was severe joint inflammation. In this case, the SSA or its representative team could claim this disability isn’t as ‘debilitating’ because of evidence such as wages or external income, or recreational activities you partake in which speak of a healthy lifestyle.
If your SSI payments are lowered or withheld for these reasons when your arthritis (as an example) is really severe according to doctors, your lawyer can gather all witness testimony from co-workers, family, friends who have all been with you firsthand to know your disease is severe, as well as gathering evidence such as doctor’s notes and medical documents, in order to build a stronger, more favorable case.
There are four main levels to an SSI appeal. The first is a file for reconsideration, which is handled directly by the SSA. This will essentially depend on the kind of issue you have. If one had, like the example above, a crippling disability, they would be filing a disability claim. In the event that it’s not a medical issue, you would file a non-medical claim. If you previously were receiving SSI, and were taken off due to your condition improving, you would file what is known as a medical cessation claim. Then, there are also technical errors you can file, in the case that there was a mistake made in the actual application process.
The second level is to file a request for a hearing with an administrative law judge, or an ALJ. This step comes in the event the SSA denies your reconsideration claims. The ALJ will be an impartial party who will listen to your attorney’s argument and the SSA’s and come to a decision to either uphold the SSA’s decision, remand it (in other words, send it back) to the SSA officials, or grant your claim. This is the stage where most SSI claims are settled.
The third level is the appeals council, which is a step above the ALJ hearing. For the council, you will not need a formal hearing or presentation from your attorney. Instead, they will review your decision in private, but it won’t necessarily be just a file-and-wait for you and your attorney. You’ll be actively submitting new evidence or statements to the appeals council to strengthen your case. Keep in mind most cases don’t advance this far and are usually settled by the ALJ stage.
The final level is the federal court, where your claim will be reviewed by one of the 94 US District Courts. The Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania is conveniently located in Philadelphia should you need to make a hearing for your disability claim. It is very rare for an SSI claim to advance this far, but it is important to know in case the appeals council denies that there is a last resort option if your lawyer approves. Like the above stages, the court can either deny, remand, or grant a claim.
If at any time you need to make an appearance in court, there will be reasonable accommodations for whatever disability you may have, including ramps, mobile adjustments, interpreters, and others.
Having a lawyer on your side at each level of the appeals process will benefit your chances of success. As mentioned above, SSI lawyers will have specialized knowledge for these cases including understanding precedents from previous cases and negotiating counteroffers with opposing counsel.
Where to Find an SSI Lawyer
So now that you understand the benefits of having legal counsel in the appeals process, let’s talk about how you can find a lawyer.
Like finding a teacher, a doctor, a therapist, or any professional in your life, the best place to start is with a referral. Either from a friend, family member, or colleague, someone who has your best interests in mind will refer you to someone they trust. It’s also a way of verifying that the lawyer in question has positive feedback from clients and a good-standing reputation.
In the case of no referrals, online is the best place to complete your search. Look for legal periodicals and directories from the best law firms in Philadelphia and narrow down your search. Specifically look for administrative law and social security lawyers in particular. It’ll help to read reviews and client testimonials to get a solid grasp of what a lawyer’s track record and workflow looks like, and see if they’re a fit with your particular case.
When you’re satisfied with your search, you may schedule a consultation with your lawyer so each of you can determine if the case is right for the other. Consultations are normally free, and can be done via a phone call, video call, or a face-to-face introduction at an office. The lawyer will examine if their case is the right match for them and you will examine if the lawyer is the right match for your case.
Prep yourself with questions that have need-to-know answers, such as how long they think the case will last, how many stages of the appeals process they are willing to take your case, how they’ll be paid, what their communication process looks like, and how they’ve handled other cases in the past.
Once you’re confident in the research and your consultation, you’re ready to sign an agreement and begin your journey to secure your rights.