Why Do I Need An Attorney for This?
You need an attorney because your opponent is the judge. Social Security disability is an administrative law practice. The process is very different from a “normal” law practice because the judge takes part in the hearing on behalf of Social Security and also makes the decision. Not all attorneys are equal – very few attorneys are used to handling the judge as an adversary rather than in impartial party. Federal administrative law is a very specialized area of law that almost no one practices – there are only roughly 20 people in the greater Houston metropolitan area that practice in this area of law. It’s not enough to have an attorney, you need an attorney who devotes themselves to this niche practice. Additionally, be aware that not everyone who appears before a judge to represent individuals seeking disability benefits is an attorney. Social Security will let anyone be a representative. Be wary of anyone who calls themselves an “advocate” that’s a red flag that they are not an attorney. The hospitals are especially prone to having non-attorney representatives go before a judge.
Why are Greg and Matt better than the approximately 20 other Social Security Disability attorneys in Houston?
The Social Security practice lends itself to two different business models. Some Social Security firms take the position that they will take almost all cases and just see what sticks and rely on a volume practice to be profitable. They accept that losing many cases as the cost of doing business. Degeyter Law does not follow that business model. We only take cases we believe we can win, and intentionally keep our case load low in order to be able to devote as much attention as needed to every case. Does that mean we sometimes turn away cases that win? Yes. It also means that we win cases that are marginal because we have the time and energy to develop the case properly rather than a high volume cookie cutter approach. Most of the Social Security attorneys are competent. The quality of representation at the hearings is going to be high regardless of who you choose to represent you. The difference between winning and losing is in the case development. That’s where Degeyter Law is the better choice compared to the high volume cookie cutter practices.
Once I Complete the Form for The Free Case Evaluation, What Next?
Either Greg or his wife Rochelle who helps with cases will call you. They will listen with care to your situation and evaluate whether they can be of assistance. For disability you have to meet technical requirements and medical requirements. We start by screening for the technical requirements. It’s inherently unfair to someone to explore their medical condition only to find out after the fact that they are technically ineligible and the judge won’t even look at their health condition. If you are technically eligible, we will assess whether or not we think we can win your case. If we think we can, then we will ask you questions so that we can file your application for you. When the call is completed, we will send you paperwork electronically for you to sign on a smart phone or computer so that we can begin representing you. This paperwork can be signed with a finger on your cell phone so there’s no need to worry about mailing the paperwork back to us. (EXCEPTION: If you are only eligible for Supplemental Security Income then the law does not allow us to file your claim)
What Should I Expect from the Duration of Time Having you as my Attorney?
- We will file the application for you, but then Social Security needs to make a decision. That can take four to six months. While this initial decision is made we will order your medical records to send to Social Security to assist in their decision making process.
- Social Security will send a work history report and a adult function report. This is something that you need to fill out in your own words as the judges will go back and examine the reports in preparation for your appearance. If the report sounds polished like an attorney assisted you then they will not give the report much weight. If the report sounds cookie cutter like it’s a boiler plate response the judges will not give the report much weight. Sometimes Social Security will send you to a doctor at their expense.
- We get a copy of the appointment and call you to make sure you received your copy and are able to attend. If the case is denied at the initial stage, we will appeal the denial. Social Security will send another copy of the reports to you for completion. This is a great chance for you to explain how your functioning has decreased. Again, this is something you fill out as the judges will not give much weight to something polished.
- We will order medical records again and turn them over to Social Security. If you are denied at this middle step (and almost everyone is denied here) we will appeal the denial and request a hearing before a judge. The law requires you have at least 75 days notice for your hearing date, so the beginning of the hearing process is dead time.
- When the hearing notice is generated we will order medical records again. Texas law gives the medical providers 30 days to give us your medical records, so ordering at this time leaves plenty of time for the records to come in and be submitted to the judge, but is close enough to the hearing to give a good picture of how your health limits you.
- Some cases can be won by writing a letter (called a brief) to the judge after this last sweep for records is completed. If this is a possibility we will write the brief for the judge.
- Some cases have to go before the judge. If you have to go before a judge, we will call you 2-4 days before your hearing to discuss what to expect. Greg has done over 4,000 hearings and experience shows that calling more than 4 days before a hearing has less value as the details of the discussion are hard to remember at the hearing. Calling 2-4 days beforehand gives us time to address any issues or concerns you may have, but also is close enough to the hearing that the discussion will still be fresh in your mind. The hearing is under oath, but otherwise an informal process.
- You, the judge, and I will be having a conversation about your health and how it prevents you from working. It’s a relaxed setting to try and keep everyone at ease. Two to three months after the hearing you will get the judge’s decision in the mail.
Do We Ever Interact with Opposing Counsel or Juries in the Courtroom?
Never. Social Security does not have an attorney present. The judge acts as both the decision maker and the representative for Social Security. While this may seem unfair as the judge both participates in the process and makes the decision most judges are fair and simply wanting to get the information needed to make the decision. All hearings have a jobs expert, known as a vocational expert, testify as to whether jobs are available to a person with the limitations the judge thinks are present. The vocational expert does not get to question you.
What Qualifications Do I Have to Meet in Order to be Eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits?
- Social Security goes through technical and then medical criteria to determine if a person is disabled. On the technical side, they look for are you eligible for disability insurance benefits and are you eligible for supplemental security income benefits.
- Disability insurance benefits is just what is sounds like, a disability insurance claim. When the government takes taxes out of your paycheck part of those taxes go to pay for a disability insurance policy with Social Security. Just like with a car insurance payment, you make a payment and have coverage for a period of time, and the coverage will end at some point after your last payment.
- For disability insurance benefits you have coverage if you have worked ten years total AND at least five of the past ten years.
- If you don’t have disability insurance benefits coverage any more you may be eligible for supplemental security income. This is a disability program for the needy. Rather than looking at have you worked long enough and recent enough they look at your assets.
- If you are needy, which Social Security defines as less than $2,000 in assets ($3,000 if married) not counting one car and the home you live in, then you meet the technical requirements for supplemental security income.
- Once you meet one of the technical requirements Social Security looks to see if your health keeps you from doing any job you have had in the past 15 years AND if it keeps you from doing any other work that is available in the national economy. As you get older the available jobs are looked at more closely, and Social Security uses the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine if jobs are available. The guidelines are literally a grid with age on one axis and capability on one axis, so they are informally called the grids or grid rules.
- If you are 18-49 years old, if there’s any job out there that you can do then you’re not disabled.
- If you are 50-54 the rules change, and if you are limited to a sit down job (sedentary according to the grids) you are disabled.
- If you are 55-59 then you have to be able to do what’s called “medium” work to be not disabled. Examples of medium work are janitor at a school and clean up crew at a construction location.
- Once a person turns 55 the case is usually a matter of can the applicant do a job they have done in the past 15 years or not.
How Long Does it Normally Take for one of your Clients to Obtain Benefits?
Social Security has a three level decision making process. When someone first files a claim they are at the “initial” stage. This normally takes four to six months to complete. If the claim is denied, and most are denied, the second step is called “reconsideration” and is essentially another doctor looking at the file. This is almost always a denial. If reconsideration is denied you go before a judge. The process from application to appearing before a judge takes 12-14 months at the Houston North hearing office, and 18-20 months at the Bissonnet hearing office. The judges usually take two to three months to get a decision written and mailed. Once the judge approves the case and the decision is received the payment center has to process the favorable decision, which takes approximately 45 days.
What Do I Pay?
Congress sets the fees that can be charged for a Social Security case. Right now, the fees are twenty five percent of the backpay received, capped at six thousand dollars. Very rarely a case will go to the federal district court level, and if the case does the six thousand dollar cap is removed.