Maybe you've applied for disability benefits and you've been denied, or perhaps you just need some advice on getting started with your application; whatever the case, a Social Security Disability advocate can offer help and guidance. But how do you pick the right advocate? Here are some things you should ask an advocate before you decide that you want them to handle your unique case.
1. Where are you located and can I meet with you?
Some disability advocates will take out-of-state clients, which means you likely will not meet them in person until the day of your hearing. While many of these firms can still offer quality, long-distance service, it may be in your best interest to find an advocate within your state, especially if you feel overwhelmed or have concerns about your individual case. If you do work with a local disability advocate, you’ll still want to be sure they’re willing to meet with you in person at least once before a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
2. What is your success rate?
Social security benefits advocates with high success rates are, statistically speaking, more likely to win your case; it's really that simple! So, don’t be afraid to ask. Disability advocates with a high success rate will be happy to share it with you.
3. How many years of experience do you have?
No matter how skilled an advocate might be at building a good case for you, if they've only been in practice for a short while, they may not yet know all of the tricks of the trade to get you the compensation you rightfully deserve. It's in your best interest to choose an advocate who has been doing this for years, because when it comes to your ensuring that you receive your benefits, nothing beats wisdom and experience.
4. Do you have specialization in disability cases like mine?
If you have been denied benefits for your depression, you're going to want an advocate who has dealt with their share of depression-based social security benefits cases. If you have been denied benefits for a heart condition, you're going to want an advocate who is familiar with the technical aspects of these types of claims. With specialization comes a greater familiarity with the specific challenges of your application, and thus a preparedness to overcome these challenges.
5. What are your fees?
Many people applying for disability are already struggling financially, so you want to find a disability advocate that has no consultation or upfront fees. A reputable disability expert will only charge you if they win your case for you, and the fee will simply come out of your back Social Security check upon winning. This fee should not exceed 25% of the retroactive dollar amount of a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits award, with a cap of $6,000 (the Social Security Administration sets this rate).
6. Do you charge case-related expenses?
Most disability advocates will charge for expenses related to your case, such as the cost of medical records requests, medical source statements, postage, and possibly travel expenses. Ask upfront what expenses are included, the average cost of case-related expenses, and whether you’ll be charged for these costs even if you lose your case.
7. Will you be in touch following a denial and available for calls?
If your initial case has been denied, and the following appeal is as well, it can take six months to a year to get a hearing date (according to the SSA, the actual wait time for a hearing in almost all states is between 18-24 months). During this time, you’ll want to be working with a disability advocate that will be in touch regularly to provide updates and gather more details about your medical situation, and one that will make themselves available to questions that arise during this period.
8. Do You Belong to any Professional Organizations?
Ask whether or not the advocate you are researching is belongs to organizations such as the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR) and whether or not they have the credentials of an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR). Membership in such organizations and specialized credentials often reflect a higher level of competence and experience in the field of disability representation.
9. Are Your Advertisements Really Honest?
Treat the advertisements on TV, the internet, and newspapers with a great deal of skepticism. Often, these ads are sponsored by professional referral agencies that collect a large pool of inquiries through ads and then divide them between their members firms. Also, remember that the very best firms will rarely advertise through phone books, etc., because they already have sufficient business because of their reputation.
10. Do you handle cases in federal court?
This question is important as a hearing in federal court is the final way you may be able to get disability benefits if you’ve been denied during the initial application, appeal, ALJ hearing, and Appeals Council. Hopefully, your situation won’t come to this, but you’ll want an advocate prepared for it just in case, or at least one who can recommend you to someone who can represent you in federal court.
One final question that may be on your mind: Are you a licensed attorney? At Disability Experts of Florida (DEF), we are very open about the fact that we are staffed solely by non-attorney advocates. In fact, we pride ourselves on initiating cases and working on appeals zealously to provide clients with the best possible chance of being awarded benefits as quickly as possible. We believe that if you choose a busy Social Security disability attorney, you may not receive the one-on-one attention you are guaranteed with DEF.
Get a Free Consultation Today
Ready to talk? Our free consultation gives you the chance to sit down with an advocate, explain your situation, and ask the questions we've listed above as well as any others you may have. Whoever you choose to represent you, your financial future will be in their hands, so you want to make sure that they’re ready, willing, and able to provide you with the support you need. Consult an experienced benefits advocate today!