A few months ago, my office received an urgent call from a potential new client from Butler, Pennsylvania. Karen* informed me that she had applied for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits more than fifteen months ago and recently received a Notice of Hearing in the mail from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The notice informed her of the hearing date, time, and location (Seven Fields Hearing Office in Mars, PA). Karen had stopped working more than three years ago due to her limits in the workplace related to her Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Her hearing was in eight short weeks, and she needed help from an attorney urgently.
Karen had worked most of her adult life in Human Resources (HR) and thus had been able to manage most of the paperwork from the SSA on her own. During the fifteen months Karen waited for her hearing date to be set, her condition worsened. She was often sick and busy going to doctors’ appointments. She had not given much thought to her hearing in front of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
She inquired if it was too late to hire my office to represent her at her ALJ hearing since it was so soon. Most disability Claimants contact my office after the initial denial of benefits or after the request for reconsideration is denied. Fortunately, it was not too late for Karen. We invited her to schedule a free consultation appointment and asked her to fill out a couple forms (Recent Medical Treatment, Current Medications, and Work History) prior to the appointment to gather important information for reviewing her case. We also requested that she bring a CD from the SSA that contained copies of her medical records.
At an ALJ hearing, medical evidence and testimony is provided to help the ALJ make a decision. The objective medical evidence is key to winning a case. The SSA gathers medical records when a disability case is pending and there isn’t an attorney of record. It has been my experience that, unfortunately, the SSA does not obtain all of the medical evidence that exists to support a claim. With this in mind, my office requested for Karen to bring the CD containing copies of the records so that we could review the existing evidence. In addition, the forms we asked Karen (and all of our clients) to complete allow us to determine what the issues are in the case.
Karen soon came to my office in Cranberry Township, down the street from the Seven Fields Hearing office, for her consultation appointment. After reviewing her impairments, limitations, forms, and the CD from SSA, we determined that she had a valid claim. We advised her that though there was a lot of work to do in a short period of time, we could help her with her case.
We informed Karen that my office would gather and assess additional medical records to support her claim, as well as possibly contact her treating doctor for an opinion about her ability to work. When Karen was leaving the office, we scheduled her for a Hearing Preparation appointment (about 10 days prior to her hearing).
My office then worked diligently to determine what evidence was needed to support Karen’s case. We obtained the medical evidence and submitted it to the ALJ.
At that Hearing Preparation appointment, I prepared Karen for what to expect and the typical questions asked during a hearing, then reviewed the evidence we had obtained to support her case.I explained that she needed to (1) tell the truth, (2) tell it like it is, and (3) answer the questions asked. Given that I have been practicing in this area for many years, I shared my personal knowledge with Karen regarding the specific ALJ assigned to her hearing.
On the day of the hearing, we met at the Seven Fields, PA hearing office. In the eight weeks we had to make her case, my office obtained the evidence needed to support her claim, prepared Karen for the hearing, and submitted a written statement—an argument as to why she was disabled under SSA regulations. Initially, Karen was nervous, but she soon relaxed once the hearing began. After, she commented that she was happy with her decision to have an attorney represent her. Most often a decision is not granted immediately after the hearing, so it was several weeks later when a fully favorable decision letter was received in the mail!
Did Karen achieve a different result because she had an attorney represent her? Statistics show that Claimants represented by attorneys at the ALJ hearing level are more likely to be approved than those without an attorney. In Karen’s case, we were able to successfully assist her in obtaining her benefits.
If you’re in need of an attorney to represent you during an upcoming hearing with the SSA, contact Elizabeth A. Smith today.
*Names have been changed for privacy.