Do You Need a Disability Advocate?

Applicants for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits may find it helpful to partner with a trained and qualified representative who can advocate on their behalf throughout the disability claims process.

A disability advocate can help navigate the claims process, provide essential insight and advice and also manage some of the details, deadlines, and documentation requirements that can serve as a source of stress to disability claimants. Since disability advocates are trained to understand the disability claim process, their assistance can be invaluable in making sure your claim is approved as early in the review process as possible.

Important Facts About Disability Advocates

  • What Is a Disability Advocate?
  • Disability Advocate Roles and Duties
  • How Much Does a Disability Advocate Get Paid?
  • Disability Advocate vs Disability Lawyer
  • How To Become an SSA Disability Advocate
  • How To Find a Disability Advocate

If you decide to apply for SSDI benefits, it’s important to set yourself up for success. Working with an outside partner who can advise you on the process and provide essential support can make your experience with the claims process much smoother and increase the chances of your claim being approved as early in the process as possible.

The Social Security Administration will work with a disability advocate just as they would work with you during the claim consideration process. The SSA also will allow you to name multiple disability advocates if that is your choice.

Many people reach out to a disability advocate after their initial disability claim has been denied by the SSA – but keep in mind that you are allowed to work with a disability advocate at any stage of the process. You may find it helpful to work with a disability advocate from the very beginning to smooth the process and increase your chances of approval.

There are several key facts you should understand about disability advocates. We’ve outlined many of them below.

What Is a Disability Advocate?

A disability advocate is someone you select to assist you throughout the SSDI claim consideration process. According to the Social Security Administration, a disability advocate may be an attorney or someone else you have chosen to represent your best interests as your disability claim is being considered. Disability advocates are trained and certified through the SSA, and they must regularly complete continuing education requirements to make sure they stay up-to-date on the latest disability laws and regulations that could affect your claim.

Many SSA disability advocates come from fields like health and human services or civil rights, and some also may have previous experience with agencies serving the disability community. Disability advocates may represent organizations that promote independent living, assist disabled people with housing or other needs, or campaign for disability justice. In some cases, a disability advocate may have some legal training, but they do not have to be an attorney to assist you with your claim.

While you may be fairly confident that you can be approved for disability benefits because of your medical condition, keep in mind that as many as 60% of Social Security Disability Insurance claims are denied upon first review. Working with a disability advocate can help you more objectively evaluate the strength of your claim, increase your chances of being approved, and prepare to navigate the appeals process in case that becomes necessary.

Disability Advocate Roles and Duties

Once you have named a disability advocate, they may undertake several duties on your behalf. Your disability advocate may, for example, engage with the Social Security Administration and to collect information for you that is housed within your SSA file. In addition, your disability advocate may help you collect appropriate medical evidence to support your disability claim, and they may accompany you to any hearing, appointment, or meeting you have with the SSA regarding your claim.

Your disability advocate may help you to prepare for an administrative hearing about your disability claim, and your advocate can appeal a denial on your behalf – including requesting a reconsideration, a hearing, or an Appeals Council review. Your disability advocate also will be included in notifications of any decision related to your claim.

How Much Does a Disability Advocate Get Paid?

Disability advocates typically are paid directly by the SSA, and they receive a percentage – no more than 25% of your back pay, or $6,000 – whichever dollar amount is lower.

A disability advocate must receive special approval from the SSA in order to charge for services. In addition, the SSA will approve the amount that your disability advocate will be able to charge you – your advocate cannot charge more than the amount set by the SSA. If your disability advocate accepts any money from you in advance of your claim being submitted, the funds must be held in escrow until the full claims process is complete.

Disability Advocate vs Disability Lawyer

A disability advocate needs to be certified but does not need to be an attorney. However, many disability advocates are lawyers. An advocate may have some legal knowledge, but primarily assists applicants with the details and process associated with submitting a claim for disability benefits. Disability advocates are required to complete appropriate training and certification to make sure that they are fully qualified to help applicants navigate the disability claims process.

Disability advocates must pass a comprehensive exam on Social Security regulations and disability rules, as well as a background check. Disability advocates must also complete continuing education requirements on a regular basis to maintain certification.

A disability attorney undergoes education and training that is both more rigorous and more specialized than that of the disability advocate. A disability lawyer must hold a bachelor’s degree, plus an advanced law degree and have passed the bar exam for the state in which they practice. In order to represent you throughout your disability claim process, a disability lawyer also must be in good standing with their state bar association.

Like disability advocates, disability lawyers must complete continuing education requirements on a regular basis – in general, a disability lawyer’s continuing education requirements will be more stringent than those of the disability advocate.

One other distinguishing characteristic is accountability. A disability lawyer is professionally bound by attorney-client privilege to keep your information confidential, whereas a disability advocate is not. Lawyers who are bar-certified are held accountable to the highest standard of ethics and obligations.

How To Become an SSA Disability Advocate

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and/or appropriate work experience, you can begin the process of becoming a certified SSA disability advocate.

You will need to complete training and pass your certification test. You can find many accredited programs online that will take you through a self-paced training course, and you can then complete a test and become certified through organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities.

How To Find a Disability Advocate

It’s important to find a disability advocate that you can trust to represent your best interests. If you aren’t sure how to choose a disability advocate, the Social Security Administration can assist you. The SSA maintains a list of organizations that may be able to help you choose an appropriate disability advocate. Some disability advocates also work as independent contractors and may market their services. A quick online search may reveal appropriate candidates in your area.

Before making a decision, interview several candidates and ask for referrals from friends or family whenever appropriate. Look for an advocate that is in good standing with the Better Business Bureau if possible, and ask for references, along with examples of cases similar to yours that the advocate has assisted with. Examine the advocate’s success rate, amount of experience, and style of communication. The SSDI claims process can be lengthy and frustrating, so make sure you’re partnering with someone you can trust along the way.

Working with a knowledgeable and qualified advocate can make a huge difference in how quickly and easily your disability claim is approved by the Social Security Administration. Try to find a trusted partner before you begin the disability claim process. Doing so can help you strengthen your claim and increase your chances of success.