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5 THINGS TO LOOK FOR BEFORE HIRING A SOCIAL SECURITY LAWYER

Scarcely a month goes by without my hearing the following sad mantra from a social security disability applicant regarding their appeal to the Appeals Council or the Federal Court after denial of a claim:

“I saw/heard a very professional looking/sounding ad on TV/Radio/Internet, called them and signed up. They seemed to be very concerned about my case.  I met my lawyer for the first time a year later, just before the hearing (or, he appeared at the hearing by phone because they were out of State). He* didn’t say much to the Judge. I don’t think he knew anything about my case. I was denied benefits. When I called the lawyer to find out what he could do to help me, I was advised that they don’t do appeals and to find another lawyer.”

The consequences of losing at the hearing level can be catastrophic. You may no longer be  insured if you have to reapply. At very least, benefits will be delayed for several years.

When looking for a Social Security Disability attorney, apply the following safeguards:

 

  1. Go to the advertiser’s website. If you see the following at the bottom of the home page, think twice before signing up.

          “Talk to an attorney right now!”

or

          “Not RealName.org is not a lawyer or law firm.”      

 These are not law firms. They are advertising services paid for by the lawyers and advocates  whose names are forwarded in response to user requests.  The lawyer you will be referred to is probably selected because he pays for the referral, not necessarily because he is competent.

  1. Never hire a lawyer until you first meet him, face to face. If it doesn’t feel right at the meeting, it probably isn’t.
  2. Hire a local attorney. He will be familiar with the Judge’s idiosyncrasies and will act accordingly. Additionally, you can schedule in person appointments without boarding a plane.
  3. Hire an attorney who is member of NOSSCR. NOSSCR is the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. The organization is committed to keeping members current on the law and changes to it and is committed to supporting a membership that provides high quality representation for claimants.
  4. Check the content on the prospective attorney’s website. If it is informative and helpful, it is worth a call and an office visit.

The delays once you file an initial application or an appeal are challenging enough so make sure the attorney you hire is by your side along the way.

*he means he or she.

[Read more…]

Filing for Social Security Based on Mental Disorders

According to the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), individuals diagnosed with certain mental disorders are eligible to receive social security disability benefits. For those who suffer with mental health issues, this income can provide a degree of relief in an otherwise difficult situation by aiding the recipient financially while their focus is on treatment. The SSA uses Section 12.00 of their guidelines on mental disorders to evaluate social security disability claims based on mental illness.

Mental Illness Guidelines

According to the SSA’s guidelines, a successful claim filed due to a mental disorder requires specific records/documentation of a “determinable impairment.” In addition to the actual medical records related to the issue, the guidelines also call for an analysis of how the medical issue actually impairs the claimant’s life, particularly in relation to their work ability. The length of time the condition is expected to limit the claimant is also a factor in approving or denying a claim, as the guidelines require that limitations be expected to last for at least twelve months.

Depression

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by darkwood67 ff via flickr

The SSA divides the mental health concerns that can be used for a claim into nine categories. Each category comes with “sub factors” that are also part of the application and consideration process.

An attorney can explain specifically how the guidelines may apply in your case. However, a closer look at two common mental health issues triggering disability benefits can help explain the process. Consider depression and bipolar disorder–both of which are included in the subsection on affective disorders.

Depression

Medical professionals describe depression as a unique combination of intense negative emotions–a form of sadness with feelings of hopeless and worthlessness. A key aspect to the problem is the feeling that the negative state will last indefinitely, preventing normal, daily functioning. Under Section 12.04 of the guidelines, to receive benefits for depression, several of the following factors/characteristics must be present:

  • Lost interest in daily activities
  • Extreme energy depletion
  • Trouble eating or sleeping
  • Concentration failure
  • Inability to perform physical activities
  • Helpless and hopeless feelings
  • Thoughts about suicide

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is also classified as an affective disorder for disability benefit consideration. Usually, to receive benefits, an applicant must experience oscillating emotions of depression and “mania.” An individual seeking social security disability benefits based on a diagnosis of bipolar disorder must also demonstrate a history of episodes that illustrate these oscillating periods of mania and periods of depression.

Additional Requirements

For both depression and bipolar disorder, applicants seeking benefits must also show that the conditions present very real challenges to daily life and normal social functioning. Alternatively, an applicant can show that the condition has led to “episodes of decompensation” which is repeated experiences of worsening symptoms.

An individual who does not meet the requirements outlined above may have additional options in filing for disability based on a mental disorder. For instance, if the individual can show a history of the affective disorder for a period of at least two years that caused a significant limitation in their ability to perform basic work activities, and meet additional requirements, they may still be able to receive benefits.

Social Security Disability Attorney

In order to get the most accurate information regarding your social security disability claim, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney about the facts of your particular case. The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have been handling social security cases for a number of years, and have the skill and experience to expertly handle your case as well. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. Our offices are located in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

Social Security Returns to Mailing Statements

Many people in the state of Florida and across the country apply for Social Security and Disability benefits. Whether an individual applies to the Social Security Disability (SSD) insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, certain requirements must be met before benefits are paid out. There is a specific process to abide by in applying for benefits, and an experienced Social Security and Disability attorney can help his or her clients navigate the process and take any steps necessary to reach a positive result.

Social Security Card Image

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by 401(K) 2012 via flickr

Changes to Social Security Procedure

People should know of changes to the law and procedure when filing for and receiving Social Security and Disability benefits. While not all members of the public stay informed of any changes, an attorney who regularly practices in this area of law is responsible for doing so. An online news article recently reported of one such change. The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced on September 16th that it plans to periodically mail out paper statements to those who receive benefits. This action was previously done away with in 2011 in an attempt to save on costs. The decision to rely mostly on online tracking of earnings and future benefits was estimated to save the SSA approximately $70 million in printing and mailing costs every year. Even though millions of recipients reportedly maintain online accounts to track their benefits, complaints about the new procedure started almost immediately. In 2013, Congress stepped in and passed a bill requiring SSA to once again mail the statements in order to provide an easy and efficient way to access an estimate of one’s Social Security benefits. Depending on a recipient’s age, one can expect to receive a statement once a year or once every five years.

Applying for Benefits

The change refers to procedures followed by the SSA for those already receiving benefits. However, it is important for others to know what to expect once their application for benefits is approved. The application process can often be difficult and complex, and it is advisable to obtain the assistance of legal counsel when applying for Social Security benefits.

Social Security and Disability Attorney

If you or someone you know is considering applying for Social Security or Disability benefits in the state of Florida, it helps to consult with an experienced attorney who can take on your case and assist you in the process. The team of attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have decades of experience successfully representing clients in their Social Security and Disability applications. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Our offices are conveniently located in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

What Happens if I Miss the Deadline for Filing My Appeal?

If your initial application for Social Security Disability benefits is denied, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a claimant sixty days to file an appeal.  In filing the appeal, a claimant can either request a reconsideration of their claim or to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  If a claimant misses the sixty day deadline, they may have their claim dismissed and be forced to file another application for benefits and restart the entire process.  Fortunately for some, the SSA has issued a policy ruling setting out certain exceptions to the sixty day deadline rule.

Social Security Ruling 91-5P

According to Social Security Ruling 91-5P, the deadline to appeal can be extended if “good cause” exists.   The SSA has stated the purpose of the ruling is to clarify their policy on establishing the “good cause” requirement for missing the deadline to request review, and specifically to avoid improper administrative finality when the claimant is able to prove that they missed the deadline because they lacked the mental capacity to understand the procedures for requesting review.  This exception enables claimants to avoid automatic dismissal of their appeal if they miss the deadline.  It is also meant to ensure that the court will recognize and give proper attention to a claimant who presents evidence that because of a mental disability, they were unable to appreciate the implications of the sixty day deadline to file their appeal.  The SSA requires that a claimant’s request for an extension of time must be in writing and must give the reasons why the request for review was not filed timely.

Factors to Consider

Under normal circumstances, the following factors are considered in determining whether the claimant has shown good cause for missing the deadline

  • What circumstances prevented the claimant from making the request on time
  • Whether any action on part of the SSA misled the claimant
  • Whether the claimant did not understand the requirements as a result of amendments, other legislation, or court decisions.

However, when a claimant presents evidence that missing the deadline was due to mental incapacity, and that the claimant did not have a third party legally responsible for prosecuting the claim, the claimant establishes “good cause” when the evidence shows that he or she lacked the mental capacity to understand the procedures for requesting review.  The following factors are used to determine whether a claimant lacked the mental capacity to understand the procedures for requesting review:

  • The claimant’s inability to read or write
  • Lack of facility with the English language
  • Limited education
  • Any mental or physical condition which limits the claimant’s ability to do things for him/herself.

The final decision as to whether mental incapacity is established must be based on all of the relevant facts in each case. Any reasonable doubt is decided in favor of the claimant.  If the adjudicator finds good cause exists, the time for requesting review is extended and the claimant is allowed to take the action which would have been appropriate had they filed a timely request for review.  If the adjudicator does not find that good cause exists, the claimant’s request for review is considered untimely, their request for extension is denied, and their request ultimately dismissed.

An experienced attorney at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, PA. is invaluable in applying for and securing social security benefits.  Our team of social security lawyers is experienced in these matters, and can discuss your case with you to provide guidance and advice in the process.  If you are looking for a social security lawyer in Florida, contact us today for a consultation.

Sickle Cell Disease Can Lead to the Need for Social Security Disability

Crescent shaped blood cells are the telltale markers of Sickle Cell Disease.  “Normal red blood cells move easily through your blood vessels, taking oxygen to every part of your body. But sickled cells can get stuck and block blood vessels, which stops the oxygen from getting through.”

What are the symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?

Due to the crescent shape of the red blood cells, individuals with Sickle Cell Disease tend to suffer from anemia, which leads to “weakness, tiredness, pale appearance, yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, and shortness of breath, especially when active.” [Read more…]