Focused on helping people with disabilities apply for benefits from Social Security, certified disability advocates serve as a non-attorney allies and representatives. Legal expertise without earning a law degree is the main qualifier for this position. Most successful certified disability advocates have a college degree and have completed disability advocate training, which covers the rules and regulations related to Social Security benefits for people with a disability. In addition to gaining disability advocate training, you’ll need to have the skills to open and run a business to do this work.
Certified disability advocate training will enable you to help people with disabilities through the legal process of applying for Social Security benefits. An understanding of the law, attention to detail, creativity and strong interpersonal skills are necessary for the job. Here’s a list of the common duties of a certified disability advocate:
- Meet with clients who are in need of Social Security disability benefits
- Explain the process of applying for benefits and the eligibility requirements
- Advise clients about the necessary accompanying documentation
- Assist with preparing an application and other required paperwork
- May send documentation and application materials on behalf of the client
- May represent the client at a hearing about the application
In the event that a claim is denied, a certified disability advocate can also assist the client with preparing an appeal. A certified disability advocate who has a law degree may represent a client in federal court should the need arise.
While a college degree is not required, it may be advantageous to have pursued higher education for success in this position. Specialized disability advocate training is required for the position, and you’ll need to pass a certification exam. Course content includes:
- Advocate Operations – Learn about the organizational side of operating your own business.
- Advocate Training – Learn about the content that will be included in the certification exam.
- Case Management – Learn about managing individual cases and multi-tasking.
- Marketing – Learn about how to market your services.
In addition to going through the disability advocate training and passing the certification exam, a criminal background check is among the certified disability advocate requirements.
Most professionals in this career field work independently. This will allow you to choose your own schedule and remain in control of your workload. You’ll need to manage the organizational side of your business as well as the advocacy work. Some non-profit organizations may offer positions that include disability advocacy.
Years of Experience and Salary
Disability advocate salary varies by the individual. You can expect to receive 25 percent of back benefits that you secure for representing clients. For example, if you help a client secure $10,000 in back benefits, you’ll receive $2,500 for your work on the case. Your overall annual compensation will vary based upon the number of clients that you represent.
It’s possible that you could spend a lot of time on a case but remain unpaid if the benefits are denied. In addition, you will be responsible for paying for your own health and professional liability insurance. If you win a case, the Social Security Administration will pay you directly after verifying the legal contract that you have with the client.
Job Growth Trend
The job growth trend for this position is dependent upon geographic location. For example, in 2016, Utah had the lowest number of people with disabilities, at 9.9 percent; while West Virginia reported that 20 percent of their population had a disability. The U.S. population has experienced a steady growth in people living with disabilities, demonstrating the continued need for professionals who meet the requirements to become a certified disability advocate.