It is long, it is difficult, and it is frustrating. That is why you have a representative to help you through it.
Mr. Clauson will personally represent you once you sign and return the representation paperwork. The paperwork is not as long or involved as it appears when it arrives. There is a Form 1696, which is Social Security’s Appointment of Representative form, which you must sign in one location on several copies. There is a fee agreement, which states that, if your case is paid back benefits, then Mr. Clauson will receive a fee equal to one-fourth of the back benefits or six thousand dollars, whichever is less, which you must sign in three copies. If you don’t receive any past-due benefits, then you don’t owe a fee. Also, if your case is paid, you agree to reimburse the firm for the costs of medical records, copying, and any special examinations or consultation fees required to strengthen your case. But you only have to pay these if your claim is paid. If you are not successful in getting your Disability Benefits, then you do not owe any fee.
You have completed other forms, some of them several times. You may have done so when you were not feeling well or thinking clearly. Social Security will take the answers to those questions quite seriously, and compare them to answers you gave on other occasions or in other forms. They will also compare your statements to the medical records, and to what your doctors report about what you may have told them about your abilities and impairments. When you find yourself completing a form for what feels like the fourth or fifth time, resist the temptation to give up in frustration and anger, because that will only result in more inconsistencies on the printed page.
Social Security has not funded its offices in order to staff them with enough capable, trained persons to process claims quickly and efficiently. This is not your fault, but you will pay dearly for this failure in delays that are literally killing some of my clients. Do everything you can to make the most of the time between your application and your decision, such as following up on your medical issues, improving relations with your medical providers, and establishing a record as a diligent and cooperative patient. If Social Security sends you to a medical doctor or other examiner at their expense, by all means DO NOT MISS THE APPOINTMENT. It may not help you much, but it almost never hurts a claim to attend such an examination.
There is a final layer of complexity in cases that go to an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Social Security proceedings are, in legal terms, “non-adversarial,” meaning that the ALJ is not the opponent of the person applying for benefits, or of the representative, but an independent fact-finder. I believe most judges intend to operate as independent fact-finders, but not all judges are inclined to rule the same way in similar cases. Your attorney’s job is to know how to present your case to a particular judge in a way that will maximize your possibilities for a favorable outcome. You will be at an advantage if you have a representative that knows personally the ALJ’s in the area in which you live, and that has presented a larger number of cases in your local hearing office. You will be at a disadvantage if you have a representative that does not personally practice in a large volume of cases in your particular locale.