By Kiersten Gordon
Karen Towson was a thirty-nine year old working mother with two young children when a workplace accident changed her life forever. She worked as an occupational therapist, and one day at work a patient ran over her foot twice with a motorized wheelchair. What began as a simple foot contusion quickly and undeniably progressed to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome II. After physical therapy, medications, nerve blocks, and other conservative treatments failed, Karen underwent placement of a spinal cord stimulator. Unfortunately, this too, provided Karen with limited relief. Her condition continued to rapidly deteriorate and limit her mobility. Eventually, she had to have ramps installed at her home, hand controls installed in her van, and she was confined to a wheelchair. Not surprisingly, Karen began to suffer from depressive disorder stemming from her physical impairments and limitations. Despite her severe physical and mental impairments, Social Security denied Karen’s claim at both the initial and reconsideration levels. At the hearing level, she was finally awarded benefits by an Administrative Law Judge, almost three years after that fateful day at work.
Unfortunately, there are many stories like Karen’s -- men and women who have worked much of their adult lives and paid into the Social Security system, only to find that they are denied benefits when they suffer from an accident, injury, disease, mental disorder, or other condition that prevents them from working. According to the 2011 report “Outcomes of Applications for Disability Benefits” published by the Social Security Administration, in the year 2010, only 49.3 percent of cases were awarded at the initial adjudicative level. At the reconsideration level, only 10.5 percent of cases were awarded.
The good news is that the statistics in the report show that in 2010, 85 percent of cases were awarded at the hearing level before an Administrative Law Judge. Thus, it is imperative to appeal your denial and well advised to hire an attorney to advocate for you before the judge. The judge is not bound by the prior administrative decisions made in your case, and the hearing is your opportunity, with the assistance of your attorney, to tell the Judge your story.
If you suffer from a severe physical or mental impairment that has, or is likely, to prevent you from performing any type of work for at least twelve months or more, you may be entitled to an award of Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) Benefits. Most attorneys who represent claimants will meet with you and evaluate your claim at no cost. If the attorney determines that you have a viable claim for SSDI benefits, the attorney will likely take your case on a contingency fee basis and will not receive a fee unless you are awarded benefits.
 Actual name has been changed.
 See http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/statcomps/di_asr/2011/sect04.html
 You may be required to reimburse your attorney for actual costs incurred such as copies, obtaining medical records, mileage, and travel expenses.