The Government Account Office or GAO announces : “The public is three (3) times more likely to receive SSA benefits when they have a representative”.
I often get calls asking about whether someone should use an attorney or an advocate. My short answer is “there is no difference.” Attorneys and Advocates both represent claimants the same way and have the same authority. One major difference is that most Advocates have not gone to law school. Many, like myself, have been Paralegals for many years. I have been a Paralegal for 40 years and 25 years as an Advocate.
If someone were to ask me what the advantage is of working with an accredited non-attorney versus a lawyer, I would say that disability advocacy is a specialty. I am totally focused on what I do and I am in tune with my claimants. Unless an attorney or lawyer is in practice exclusively for disability, I think that’s the big difference. I do this all day, every day, whereas, disability could be just one area of a lawyer’s practice.
I admit that my work can be frustrating for me. By the time a case comes to me, the claimant has gone through months of waiting and two denials, one at the initial level and the other at the reconsideration level of the appeals process. Then the case will hang in a holding pattern for another year or so before getting scheduled for a hearing. I am often dealing with claimants who have reached the panic point, or worse – homeless. But we try to stay patient together until the hearing.
They are usually nervous at the hearing, but I try to put them at ease as much as possible. The hearing is very informal, for one thing. And it’s usually held in a small room with only the Administrative Law Judge, an assistant, me, the claimant, and maybe a few witnesses to support the vocational or medical aspects of the case.
Very rarely do we know the outcome, unless it’s a bench decision when the judge makes a determination on the spot. It usually takes another two months before we know the outcome. But, it’s so worth it when we win. It’s personally rewarding for me. I know my clients are relieved.
According to SSA statistics, claimants get better results if they are represented. If you are considering one over the other, get a referral, ask questions, check the net…be proactive!