Winning your disability case can often be a lengthy and challenging journey. As disability lawyers who’ve practiced in Atlanta for over three decades, Affleck & Gordon understands the difficulties claimants can face when seeking benefits—as well as which strategies give them the best hope of persevering and winning their cases.
There are several types of disability benefits programs for which you may be applying.
Some of the main government disability benefits programs include the following:
Social Security is a set of federal programs offered by the Social Security Administration for those whose disabilities prevent them from working. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a means-based program for those who are disabled, blind, or elderly, and who earn less than a certain amount of income. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an earned benefit based on acquiring a certain number of “work credits”—or quarters—while working (up to four per year).
VA Disability is a program for Veterans of the Armed Services who suffer disabilities connected to their service, as well as those with secondary disabilities. Each Veteran will be assessed and given a disability rating of 0% to 100%, based on a combination of all qualifying disabilities, and this determines their level of benefits.
Workers’ Compensation benefits are administered by the state of Georgia when you suffer a work-related injury, illness, or long-term disability. You can receive this type of benefit when you work for any company that holds workers’ compensation insurance.
Winning your disability case may not always be simple, but there are some steps you can take to maximize your chances.
Step 1: Consult an Atlanta Disability Lawyer
How a disability lawyer can help will vary depending on factors such as the type of claim, where you are in the process, and medical facts about your condition.
However, in most cases, an expert attorney can guide you through all the stages of a claim, manage expectations, and advocate on your behalf.
While you can consult an attorney at any point during your claim, it’s often best to do so right away.
Social Security claimants often won’t pay a lawyer’s fee up front, and instead will pay a percentage of their initial backpay only if they win their claim. Regardless, the right attorney can help with any disability claim.
Disability attorneys will:
- Help you gather the right medical evidence, such as records from doctors’ visits, test and imaging results, prescribed medication, and written doctors’ opinions, to prove your claim
- Advocate on your behalf and facilitate communication with those reviewing your claim
- If denied, help you prepare for and navigate appeals hearings
- Represent you during legal proceedings
- Consult you on next steps
Step 2: Medical Records Matter
All claims will rely on rigorous medical evidence to prove your level of disability. This must be produced by the claimant’s doctors, or in some cases by medical examiners provided by the reviewing agency. It’s crucial to maintain thorough medical records that can illustrate the nature of your condition when it began and how it has evolved or worsened since.
Here are some of the types of evidence you’ll need:
- Thorough information about any medication for the disability
- Records of treatments or therapy and how they’ve affected the condition
- Imaging and other types of testing, such as blood panels or psychiatric exams
- Records of interactions with doctors and specialists that show a timeline of your disability
- Written doctors’ opinions expressing how your disability meets the requirements to earn benefits
Some programs require rigorous medical evidence as to whether you meet one of their strict categories of disability, as is true of Social Security. Others may have different standards of evidence you may need to meet.
Discuss what evidence is appropriate with your attorney.
Step 3: Prepare to Appeal
It’s good to take a positive approach to filing your claim. However, many disability benefits cases are initially denied, and must be appealed.
A claim denial is common and not a reason to lose hope.
For Social Security, 60% to 70% of claims are initially denied. However, claimants have a much higher chance of success during the early stage of appeal during an ALJ hearing.
VA disability claims have a denial rate of about 1/3 of all claimants. Many others may receive unfavorable disability ratings that they wish to appeal. Or else they may wish to increase their ratings at any point due to new medical evidence for a supplementary claim.
Although there are clear cut cases where you’ll win your initial claim—which is ideal—appealing a denial is common, and a disability lawyer can help boost your chances of a reversal.
Step 4: Claims Can Take Time—Can Yours Be Expedited?
While disability claims can sometimes take months or even years to resolve, there are specific instances where cases may be somewhat expedited. There is no guarantee about this, however, so it’s important to manage expectations and not expect immediate results.
Some of these instances include:
- Dire need
- Certain disabled Veterans
- A strong case in a clearly defined category of injury, illness, or disability
Step 5: Use All the Resources at Your Disposal
First and foremost, remember that you’re not alone. There are many resources at your disposal, and qualified people are standing by to help you pursue your disability claim.
Beyond consulting your attorney, the agencies reviewing your claim are often your first and most important source of official information.
The Social Security Administration’s website offers a secure online application and tracking process, as well as a plethora of information about the process of qualifying for benefits.
The VA provides an online application process also, as well as many resources regarding disability treatments and benefits for Veterans and their families.
The Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation provides many resources regarding their offices, hearings, telemedicine resources, educational information about Workers’ Compensation law, and more.
Additional disability resources in Georgia include …
- Georgia’s Aging & Disability Resource Connection
- Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities
- Georgia Advocacy Office
If your disability benefits 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 nearly 40 years. Sign up for a free case evaluation here, or call us (404) 795-7165.