Putting together an application for Social Security Disability is difficult. You have to present medical records, work history, lab results, doctors’ statements, tax information and all sorts of other documents. It’s exhausting. Your disability may so obviously prevent you from working that it never occurs to you that they might deny your application.
But then they do, and you’re shocked. Is that it? Are you completely out of options?
A Common Experience
The good news is that almost every successful application is denied at first, sometimes more than once. Having your application denied, though frustrating, is normal. What matters is that you don’t give up, even though it's a long, tiring process.
Appealing Your Denial
Many people appeal their application denials, often several times. There are four layers to the Social Security Administration (SSA) appeals process. If you’re denied at one, you can appeal to the next:
- Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing
- SSA Appeals Council
- Federal Court appeal
Step 1: Reconsideration
The first step for appealing your claim is called “reconsideration.” In this stage, a new person will review your initial application, along with new evidence that you might have to support your claim. You don’t have to show up in person during this process, but you’re welcome to do so if you think it will help your case.
Step 2: Administrative Law Judge
If the SSA denies your claim again after reconsidering it, you can have an administrative law judge hear your case. Appearing in this instance is beneficial, and you can do it by video conference if traveling is difficult. You will probably have to submit additional information to the judge, which will vary depending on your case. In addition, expert medical witnesses may testify as well.
Step 3: Appeals Council
If you’re still not satisfied with the outcome of the administrative law judge hearing, you can appeal it to the SSA Appeals Council. They’ll review your appeal, but they might decline to hear it if they think the previous decision was the right one. They might also send it back to the administrative law judge for resolution. Or, they might decide to hear your case and decide the matter for themselves.
Step 4: Federal Court
If your claim has been denied at every previous level, the last step you can take is to challenge the decision in federal court. A district judge will render the ultimate decision on whether the SSA’s decision was the correct one.
Don’t Be Late
In all stages of the appeals process, you only have 60 days to appeal a decision that you want to challenge. If you miss this deadline, the appeals process is over and the most recent decision on your disability application stands.
Going through the Social Security Disability appeals process is often long, stressful and complicated. Unfortunately, just because you need benefits doesn’t mean you will get them. Given how often the SSA denies people -- at every point along the way -- your best tool will be sound legal advice and an experienced legal counsel. Having a successful application can change your life. You want to make sure that happens.