Legal strategy is important in Social Security benefits claims. That is why many people applying for Social Security disability benefits (and SSI benefits) hire a law firm with licensed lawyers and experienced paralegals to help them. One area of legal strategy involves the best way to manage the medical evidence in your claim. It can take a long time to get your hearing day with a judge for your Social Security disability benefits claim. Once you have your hearing, should your lawyer simply wait for the decision? Not necessarily.
Hearings for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims involve medical evidence. All medical evidence should be requested and submitted electronically as soon as it is received so it is available before the scheduled hearing day for review by your judge and the experts. Sometimes, for whatever reason, not all the evidence is available on the hearing day. Also, sometimes there is other evidence that will support your medical treatment evidence. What is it? How can your lawyer submit it? This depends on the kind of evidence that you need to prove your claim and the experience of your law firm.
Not all evidence carries the same weight in your claim for Social Security benefits. If there is missing evidence on the hearing day that is non-essential to your claim, your lawyer should explain that — in his or her legal judgment — this evidence will not make a difference in your case. For example, if you have depression as your primary disability, new chiropractic records for a minor back problem are unlikely going to impact the judge’s decision.
Slow Treating Sources
If the missing evidence is essential to your claim, such as from a regular treating source, your lawyer should ask the judge to “hold the hearing record open” to receive these records post-hearing. This offers extra protection to avoid a decision before the missing evidence gets into the post-hearing record. For example, if your MRI of your lower back was taken three weeks before your hearing, it may be available soon after the hearing. In a back case, this can be critical evidence. Your lawyer would ask the ALJ to hold the record open to receive the MRI, usually with a deadline. Your lawyer may also submit a legal argument along with this post-hearing evidence if necessary to emphasize the relevance of the new test. Licensed legal training matters.
What if your law firm, despite due diligence, cannot get your medical provider to release important records before (and even after) a hearing? If the medical evidence is essential to your claim, your lawyer should request the ALJ to subpoena these records. At Hoglund Law Offices, a subpoena request is rare. We try to avoid them by making multiple record requests and follow-ups. Under the right circumstances, though, an ALJ’s subpoena for medical records gets results. Your lawyer should be familiar with the regulations about subpoenas. Your claim may hinge on this evidence. If you are unsure about your law firm’s experience in this area, ask.
What if you forget to tell your law firm about medical treatment before the hearing? Regretfully, this can happen. Tell your lawyer immediately about this — even after a hearing. Your lawyer can only request records he or she knows about. Sometimes your lawyer can request a judge to hold the record open after the hearing by explaining what happened. Sometimes simply submitting the new records is the only option. New evidence may, at a minimum, be relevant on appeal. Ask your law firm about strategies for Appeals Council appeals. Good lawyers plan how they would appeal every case, including yours.
Uncovering New Evidence
How does a Social Security law firm with experience where you live help you? Good local law offices can have intuitions about where related medical records are. Your law firm’s experience and persistence with your region’s different medical facilities can help ensure that requests, once made, get where they need to. But even the best intuition still needs your help. If you haven’t had a hearing yet, try to write down everywhere you have received treatment — especially since you stopped working. A one-time visit with a neurologist can make a difference in your claim depending on the other medical evidence. All treatment can count. Your lawyer can ultimately decide what’s important. At Hoglund Law Offices, our lawyers make these kinds of decisions all the time.
Your law firm’s experience can count, particularly when it comes to creative evidence. Evidence is not limited to traditional medical records. At Hoglund Law Offices, we find alternative evidence can be strong secondary support for medical treatment records. Depending on the situation, we can submit county forms from physicians for welfare benefits, VA benefits decisions, court commitment evaluations, personal medical journals, workers’ compensation evaluations, child custody documentation of inability to work, vocational training records, and the list goes on. Sometimes a point of contention first arises at the hearing. In these situations, a post-hearing treating medical opinion can “plug a hole” in the evidence.
Hopefully after reading this, you can see how legal experience can impact what your lawyer and your law firm does before and after your Social Security hearing. How your lawyer handles your evidence can make a difference. If you have questions about Hoglund Law Offices or our Hoglund Lawyers, please feel free to visit HoglundLaw.com or call us toll-free at 1-855-780-4357.
Andrew Kinney, Esq.
*** Attorney Andrew Kinney speaks locally, statewide, and nationally on Social Security Disability Law. If you wish for him to speak or train at your upcoming professional function, please contact his offices for details. For examples of topics in our Hoglund Lawyer Disability Library, click here: Top 5 Ways to get Approved for Social Security Benefits.