Obtaining disability benefits can be a confusing process. Whether a person needs a lawyer to file for disability benefits really depends on the person, their individual circumstances, and their ability to complete the mountain of paperwork within the allotted time frames.
While getting the process started is simple enough to do without an attorney, once a claim is denied, strict deadlines are triggered and an appeal must be filed in a timely fashion. If you are concerned that meeting the deadline to file an appeal may be difficult, hiring an attorney before filing your initial claim might be the right choice for you. Also, you may simply want to get your paperwork professionally reviewed to insure it's completed correctly.
What Can I Expect After Filing?
After the initial application for disability benefits is filed, generally the Social Security Administration will provide an approval or denial within 3 to 4 months. If your application was approved, you'll start collecting disability. If your application was denied, you'll need to file your first appeal, known as the Reconsideration Appeal, within 60 days. This process, if you're confident in your abilities to fill out forms correctly, can be done without an attorney. However, once your initial application is denied, if you haven't already consulted an attorney, you should retain an attorney ASAP.
As the Social Security Disability Resource Center notes on their website, Reconsideration Appeals are usually decided within 90 days and usually denied. Once you receive a denial of the first appeal, you have 60 days to file to request a hearing. At the hearing, you will want to be represented by an attorney who will prepare your case by contacting and preparing witnesses, reviewing documents, medical records and photographs to decide which are the best, most relevant pieces of evidence, as well as seek out proper expert witnesses. If your hearing results in an adverse decision, you can still file an appeal in federal district court.
How Long Is This Going to Take?
The time frames for each stage can vary widely and be inconsistent. Generally though, an initial application will be decided in 3 to 4 months, a Reconsideration Appeal will be decided within 90 days, and after an approximate wait time of 12 to 18 months, you will have your hearing. Decisions from the hearings can take as long as 3 months, though frequently are issued sooner. If you appeal to a federal district court, the wait time will depend on the individual district court's calendar, however, like any federal case, expect that your appeal will take at least 6 to 18 months.