Should You Hire a "Social Security Disability Advocate" or a Real Lawyer to Represent You in Your Disability Claim?Tuesday, August 4, 2009
In my opinion, why eat hamburger when you can have steak for the same price? So called "Social Security Disability Advocates" are now swarming throughout the country, with new ones popping up every day. What do you need to know about some of these outfits before signing up and risking your hard earned Social Security Disability benefits to some faceless, out-of-state entity? Don’t be fooled by slick websites with smiling people – many of these outfits are nothing more than disability claim factories and some have major conflicts of interest.
I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette-Mail newspaper about the invasion of Allsup into the West Virginia marketplace. Allsup has long been dogged by claims that they really represent insurance companies trying to recover disability insurance payments – not individuals desperately in need of Social Security Disability benefits. The article concedes that outfits like Allsup and Advantage 2000 get the bulk of their income from ERISA long term disability insurance companies.
However, in many ways the Allsup’s of the world are old news by now. It is the new crop of so called "Disability Advocates" that may present the greatest danger for the uninformed consumer. Take for instance, Disability Advocates of America. On their Home page, they state that they provide "Legal Services" nationwide, but fail to give you the names or qualifications of their attorneys. How can you make an informed choice for legal representation when they hide the identities of the lawyers? And of course, the next question is why are they hiding the qualifications of their lawyers? Hmm… Even more disturbing is their "Online Application". How many claimants would mistakenly believe that this "Online Application" was actually a real online application for Social Security Disability benefits like the one on the Social Security Administration website? Scary stuff!
Companies like Genex Services, SSDC Services, Corp. , and get this name, Freedom Disability (formerly Social Service Coordinators), all have prior or existing connections to the insurance industry and in many ways act as collection companies on their behalf, no matter how nice their "advocates" or "consultants" may seem. When push comes to shove, is their relationship with the insurance company more important than their obligations to you as an individual? I think you know the answer.
Finally, on a serious but humorous note, how much training does it take to become a "Social Security Disability Advocate"? According to Disability Associates, Inc., they are the:
"only advocate training program in America designed to transform a complete novice [beginner] into a highly skilled Social Security Disability Advocate within a very short period of time." "We offer a unique self-paced business and training program that enables you to train and work from home, full or part time, earning up to $6,000.00 per case."
Now that’s reassuring!!! How do they appear for a formal judicial hearing before an Administrative Law Judge "from home"? And they get the same fee as an attorney who cross examines the medical and vocational experts at your hearing? This could be a costly mistake!
I suppose the real message here for the disabled is "buyer beware". You can find local, experienced Social Security Disability attorneys who carry professional malpractice insurance ( for your protection) and who have no insurance company conflicts of interest by visiting the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) lawyer referral service. At least in the New York metro area, most of my clients appreciate meeting or talking with an attorney like myself before hiring me. And you know what – my clients deserve it! If claimants are going to pay the price for "steak" for representation, they deserve competent attorney representation, rather than so called "advocates".