Choosing Representation FAQs
Asking these questions can help you choose the right SSDI representative.
Typically, there are two major types of paid SSDI representatives. First, there are specialized organizations like True Help, which have multiple representatives and specialists experienced in handling SSDI claims in local communities across the country. There also are law firms that may or may not have attorneys solely dedicated to SSDI claims.
You should look for a representative who specializes in SSDI and understands the complexities and nuances of the process. Don’t be fooled if some representatives try to impress you with their local influence. It’s highly unlikely that they have special influence over local SSA staff or can ensure your hearing will take place in front of a specific judge.
Our expertise is clear by a 30+ year history supporting people with disabilities and by its knowledgeable staff that has decades of combined experience working with the SSA.
The myth that you cannot have a representative help you file your initial application may stem from the fact that many attorneys only accept SSDI customers after their disability applications are denied.
However, it can be to your advantage to use a representative in the earliest stages. This is especially true when completing the Activities of Daily Living questionnaire, which requires a level of detail that can easily derail you because of unfamiliarity with the process.
True Help, for example, accepts customers at all levels throughout the SSDI process and has approval rates that are higher than the national average, at both the initial disability application and reconsideration phases. This means more people receive their awards faster and can potentially avoid the hearing and Appeals Council phases when choosing True Help representation.
It’s important to choose a representative who consistently works on your behalf throughout the process and removes the burden from you. For example, you should ask:
- Will you help me complete necessary forms?
- Will you make sure forms and appeals are filed in a timely way?
- For a hearing, will you contact my doctors and collect or update medical records for my claim?
- Will you be available to answer any questions I may have at any point in the process?
- Will you regularly check with the SSA for claim status and confirm updates?
Not all disabilities are alike. The SSA has specific Disability Impairment Criteria for hundreds of specific conditions, from AIDS and diabetes to fibromyalgia and strokes. It’s essential to prepare each case with details and in the language required by the SSA to avoid unnecessary delays, a reduced award or denial of benefits. The representative you choose should be experienced in working with a variety of disabilities as well as knowledgeable about the SSA’s specific Disability Impairment Criteria.
For some individuals, it’s frustrating to hear that their claim is still pending. For others, it’s a needed reinforcement that they haven’t been forgotten or lost in the process. Disability applicants should make sure that the representation organization they choose will keep them regularly updated on the progress of their Social Security disability application, including timely notices of deadlines, documents required or scheduled hearings.
If you are seeking in-person contact on a regular basis with a local representative, you might be disappointed. Busy representatives often limit in-person contact to your initial meeting and perhaps a hearing briefing. Ask how frequently you should expect to be updated, by what means (telephone, in person, letter, etc.) and by whom.
Filing forms electronically can improve the chance of a timely response because it’s easier for the Social Security staff to review and process the information. We use electronic filing in most instances and whenever possible. Some representatives may try to convince you that the SSA is more likely to lose electronic files; however, it could be that the representative is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the technology or doesn’t routinely query the SSA to confirm electronic documents have been received after submission.
It’s likely if your appeal reaches this level. Approximately one-quarter of SSDI cases proceed to the hearing level when the case comes before an administrative law judge (ALJ). This is when the judge makes a decision based on the information in the claim file. It does require that your representative create a thorough and well-documented brief that provides a factual record of your claim.
Other important questions to ask include:
- How will you prepare me for the hearing?
- Who will testify at the hearing on my behalf and for the SSA?
No representative or organization has a 100% track record, but you should look for a representative with a high success rate in gaining SSDI benefits for its customers. This indicates the representative can deliver the desired result and also has good credibility in the industry.
There is no guaranteed timeline. External factors, including the growing disability backlog at the SSA in processing claims, can affect the timing. But a representative should know on average how long it takes their customers to get through the various stages of the SSDI process. For example, the individuals that we represent at the hearing level (where 76% of all claimants have representation) generally receive an award months faster than the national average.
The SSA determines the fee that any representative or organization can charge for SSDI representation. Currently, under the SSA’s fee agreement approval process, it is 25% of the retroactive dollar amount awarded, not to exceed $6,000. Those who are approved quickly at the application level and receive no retroactive award typically pay much less.
With True Help, you won’t pay a fee until you’re approved for SSDI benefits. There are no hidden costs for things like gathering medical records, faxes or travel. Other representatives, however, may charge for these expenses. Be sure to ask any prospective representative about additional expenses that you may incur and the anticipated amount.
A representative may decline to represent you. Good representatives carefully assess potential customers to determine if they’re likely to qualify for SSDI. It’s to no one’s advantage to provide you with false hope when the representative knows the SSA will not approve your request.
If you don’t qualify for SSDI today, you might in the future if the severity of your disability increases over time and makes it impossible for you to work. If you’ve been turned away or your disability has worsened, you can find out from True Help if you’re likely to qualify for benefits.
Ready for help with SSDI?
empower by Allsup® is a personalized online tool that guides you through the SSDI application process and can help you use these benefits to return to work, if and when you medically recover. To get started, take our free assessment and find out if empower is right for you.