Those seeking disability benefits may find the process long and, at times, daunting. Often, the process consists of a “hurry up and wait” approach. You’ll be asked to provide personal, financial, and medical information—then you may need to wait for several months while your claim is considered.
In addition, many disability claims are initially denied. This means you may need to go through multiple stages of appeal. Each level of appeal takes additional time as you await hearings and decisions.
During this lengthy process, navigating your way to a positive outcome for your claim isn’t always easy or intuitive.
The agency deciding your case, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), will guide you through the application and appeals process.
However, these agencies are not your advocates. They act as guides to ensure you understand the steps of deciding your case, but their decision is ultimately based on their judgement of whether your disability meets their criteria.
In other words, those deciding your case want to help you understand the process that leads to their decision, but it’s not their job to fight for your benefits.
When you need an advocate to help win your claim, it’s time to consult an Atlanta disability attorney.
The right attorney can use their expert knowledge to help maximize your chances of winning your benefits.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- Step 1: Building Your Disability Case
- Step 2: How Atlanta Disability Attorneys Keep You Informed
- Step 3: Having a Legal Advocate During Appeals
Step 1: Building Your Disability Case
A disability case begins when a claimant files for benefits. Depending on the agency, you may apply in person at a field office location, over the phone, or—most commonly—online.
Yet an attorney can play a critical role in your claim from the very beginning.
You can learn how to apply for Social Security benefits here. These include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs.
You can learn how to apply for VA disability benefits here.
For disability claims connected to Workers’ Compensation cases, these will be handled with your employer’s Workers’ Comp insurer.
You can learn about Workers’ Compensation in Georgia here.
You can consult an attorney at any time during your disability case; however, doing so early-on gives you access to expert advice and planning throughout.
While an attorney can’t guarantee you’ll win your initial claim, they can help you ensure the greatest possible chance.
During the initial stages of your claim, a lawyer can help:
- Gather the necessary medical evidence to prove your disability.
- Clarify expectations about your case.
- Set a realistic timeline and, in some instances, see if your case can be expedited.
- Avoid mistakes that will lead to a denial, such as missing paperwork, insufficient medical evidence, or missed deadlines.
- Prepare a long-term plan that includes the possibility of appealing a denial.
Step 2: How Atlanta Disability Attorneys Keep You Informed
Communication is central to your relationship with your disability attorney. Each stage of your case requires you to be informed and prepared, and the right legal representative can provide that crucial support.
When you’re in the process of choosing an attorney, you’ll want someone who:
- Returns phone calls promptly and directly
- Can clearly explain their experience with your particular type of disability claim, credentials, and payment expectations
- Sets realistic expectations and doesn’t offer false promises
Your attorney should be able to impart their expert knowledge about disability law and answer your pressing questions in a way that’s clear and definitive. They may not be able to tell you how your case will turn out, but they can guide you toward the best possible solutions and give you a roadmap for what comes next.
Local attorneys, whether in Atlanta or other regions, can offer the added advantage of knowing local courts’ expectations. They will have working relationships with regional court personnel, such as Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), who may decide on your claim during an appeals hearing.
This will inform how they optimize your strategy to best win your benefits, and how they communicate that strategy to you.
Step 3: Having a Legal Advocate During Appeals
The fact is that many initial benefits claims are denied. This can be for many reasons, such as insufficient medical evidence, to missed deadlines or misfiled paperwork, to a possible mistake made during the review process.
An attorney can help you file for appeals and, if necessary, prepare for upcoming hearings.
Here are a few common stages of appeal for Social Security disability cases:
- A second review of your claim by the SSA
- A hearing before an ALJ
- A review with the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia
- Federal court
Statistically, your best chance of winning a reversal on appeal for Social Security cases is during an ALJ hearing.
Your lawyer will help you prepare for this hearing. For instance, they may help you gather updated medical evidence that shows the current severity of your condition, especially if this was the reason for the initial denial.
A disability attorney can also play a part in the hearing itself. They may know a judge’s demeanor and expectations. They may also have a rapport with a judge that helps you navigate a hearing toward a positive outcome.
A disability attorney can also assist with VA disability appeals, in the event your benefits are denied or you receive an unfavorable disability rating.
These levels include:
- Supplemental claim
- Higher-level review
- Board appeal
Your attorney can inform you of the best approach to the VA disability appeals process.
If your disability claim has been denied, or you’re thinking about filing and don’t know where to start, Affleck & Gordon can help. We’ve been helping people in Georgia just like you for over 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-4978.