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Q&A: Disability benefits may be approved more quickly with an attorney

The Social Security Administration’s disability benefit system is currently heavily backlogged. Simply applying and hoping to attain benefits may leave many claimants in limbo for months, if not longer.

While hiring an attorney will not guarantee disability benefits, Harold Conick of the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates has been helping people get benefits for more than 30 years and knows his way around the system. We asked Mr. Conick a few questions about how hiring an attorney could help an applicant get their benefits quickly.

Q: How slow is the SSA’s process without an attorney?

Conick: It’s probably the same process, there’s really no distinction. But where the attorney adds value is the ability to narrow the issues concerning what is keeping the claimant from working and supplying evidence to support that. This might help to speed things up. We can also write memorandums requesting an early decision citing significant medical evidence on disability law applicable to medical evidence.

Regular people just aren’t going to know to do that. They’ll fill out the forms, they’ll answer the questions on the forms, but that may not be enough to get them benefits quickly.

Q: What do you do as counsel to make things easier and better for applicants?

Conick: Direct them to treating medical sources so they can get additional opinions to support their claim for disability. I also suggest that hey see a specialist to give reports on their condition that might be supportive of disability claims. We may get an expert to give an opinion; it might even be their own treating physician. Doctors don’t always give you the evidence that you need on your own. Sometimes you have to ask questions of them to get what the court wants.

Q: What can a client expect when working with you?

Conick: Zealous advocacy. Through preparation. Expeditious processing of their claim.

Q: Does approval come easier with counsel?

Conick: It has been shown through statistics kept by SSA that claimants have a better chance of prevailing with a lawyer rather than on their own. Preparing the evidence, trying to gather all the evidence and presenting it in a way that supports their case is what we’re supposed to be doing as lawyers.

Q: With or without an attorney, there will likely be a wait for benefits due to the backlog. What can people do for money?

Conick: That’s a problem. Hopefully their family supports them. They can end up using their resources up, including credit and savings. Sometimes they get unemployment, sometimes they have a pension. But if they’re on their own. there’s no help from the government usually. It does definitely interfere with the ability of the person to wait for the benefits It’s a catch-22; they can’t work but they’ve run out of resources. The backlog is hard on them.

Q: Anything else to know?

Conick: Once somebody gets to the point of the hearing, it takes the judge about 30 to 60 days to make a decision. There then may be appeals after that depending on how it goes. It could potentially go all the way to federal court.

Q&A: Preparing for a mental disability case

There may not be as much attention paid to mental problems as physical disabilities, but the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates has seen a large amount of these mental disability cases come through its doors. Preparing for a hearing in front of the Social Security Administration will take a lot of work, but these cases can be successful. You can attain mental disability benefits from the SSA.

Harold Conick, who has practiced for more than 30 years, answered a few questions about what it takes to prepare for one of these cases.

Q: How do you prepare for a mental disability case versus a physical disability case? Is it different?

Conick: The preparation is similar except the focus for the mental case is on how the mental illness interferes with the functionality. This concerns their ability to concentrate, memory, judgment and their ability to think about work related activities.

Q: Generally, what are the outcomes of these cases?

Conick: The outcome depends on how much treatment they’ve had for their condition. Some people are mentally ill and they don’t get much treatment because of mental issues. They can’t leave the house or don’t want to leave the house. Others are better at getting treatment The more one treats the illness, the better chance they have of prevailing on a claim for disability. The records are everything. The SSA thinks if they’re not treating they’re not that sick and they can’t prove it.

Q: Do you see a large amount of these cases in your practice?

Conick: Yeah, it is probably about half who have some component of mental illness. Bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorder or some combination of several elements. PTSD is common as well, especially among women.

Q: What’s the hardest part of trying a mental disability case?

Conick: Getting the client to cooperate with revealing their evidence. I don’t just mean their medical evidence; That’s readily obtainable usually. I mean testifying about how they are affected by their mental illness. A lot of people are hesitant to talk about it. It’s a very personal subject.

Q: Do you have any advice for people with a mental disorder applying for disability benefits? Or perhaps friends/family who want to help?

Conick: They should try to get treatments for two reasons: One their health and the hope they can be cured or treated. Two, to support their claim for federal disability benefits. Mental illness is very common; disability benefits can be had. The claimant must be willing to do everything in their power to help the case.