How a Disability Lawyer Can Help You Get Benefits for a Mental or Cognitive Disorder

If you suffer from mental or cognitive difficulties, hiring a lawyer to handle your Social Security disability claim increases your chances of success.

Social Security disability claims based on mental or cognitive disorders can be very challenging to win, especially for applicants who aren't represented by a disability attorney. To give yourself the best chance of success, consider hiring an experienced disability lawyer—one who understands Social Security's complex rules and regulations and knows how to develop the evidence needed to prove your case. Here are examples of how an attorney can help you win disability benefits for a mental or cognitive condition:

  • If your attorney thinks you meet one of Social Security's mental disability listings, he or she can draft a pre-hearing brief for the judge, discussing the listing criteria and what evidence in your file demonstrates that you have a "listing-level" impairment.
  • If your attorney doesn't think there's enough supportive evidence in your file to prove your disability, he or she can arrange for cognitive or psychological testing or secure medical opinions from your psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • If your condition is severe but you haven't obtained consistent medical treatment, your attorney might arrange for you to attend a consultative examination with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  • In cases based on cognitive impairment, a disability attorney can arrange intelligence testing for you (or argue that Social Security should do so for free), a move which can quickly turn a losing case into a winning one.
  • Your attorney can prepare you for the disability hearing by asking you some of the questions the administrative law judge may ask. How the judge perceives your credibility is one of the most important factors in whether you'll get disability benefits.

Let's look at these items in more detail.

Understanding the Mental Disability Listings

In claims based on mental and cognitive impairments, a disability attorney can assess whether your condition meets the requirements of any of the listed conditions in Social Security's Blue Book. Many of the listings in the Blue Book are complicated and some require a certain amount of legal or medical training to understand fully. In addition, all of the mental and cognitive listings were changed and updated in 2017, and lawyers are familiar with what these changes mean for disability applicants.

Your lawyer will understand not only the technical language of the listings, but also how to work with your doctor to obtain a helpful medical opinion. If your physician is unwilling to assist with your case, your attorney might be able to arrange for you to see another doctor.

Developing Medical and Other Types of Evidence

Whether or not your condition meets a mental disability listing, it's essential that you present as much evidence of your impairments as possible to Social Security. Your lawyer can help you develop evidence prior to your hearing in several ways, including the following:

  • making sure all your relevant medical records are submitted to Social Security
  • securing helpful opinions from your psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional
  • arranging for certain tests to be performed, such as a neuropsychological evaluation
  • requesting statements from friends, family members, and former co-workers who have knowledge of your condition, and
  • providing independent vocational expert testimony to illustrate that you could not perform certain types of jobs.

If your file contains any unfavorable evidence, such as drug or alcohol abuse or lapses in medical treatment, your attorney will try to mitigate (lessen) the damage as much as possible. For example, your attorney could argue that you stopped receiving psychiatric treatment for financial reasons, not because you weren't experiencing severe mental health symptoms.

Preparing You for Your Disability Hearing

For many claimants, particularly those with mental or cognitive issues, the disability hearing can be a stressful experience. Disabled individuals are expected to discuss highly sensitive and personal information with a disability judge whom they have never met. The best way to prepare for this situation is to discuss the hearing in depth with your disability attorney so that you know what to expect.

A good disability attorney will explain to you:

  • how the disability hearing will work
  • what sorts of questions you're likely to face, and
  • what topics you should focus on with your testimony.

Many claimants find it easier to testify in front of the judge if they've already practiced their answers with their attorney. Moreover, most people, especially those with cognitive or psychological issues, find it comforting to have an advocate sitting next to them at the hearing and arguing on their behalf.

Following your hearing, your lawyer will explain to you the next steps in the process: either receiving an approval or appealing your case to the Appeals Council and possibly federal court.

Hiring a Disability Attorney

Hiring an attorney to handle your Social Security disability claim is likely to increase your chances of success, especially if you suffer from mental or cognitive impairments. Most attorneys charge no fee up-front and are paid only if you collect benefits.

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