When disabled Americans apply for Social Security Disability, they often are surprised and disappointed when they are denied. They imagine that perhaps they don’t qualify after all and that most other disability applicants are being approved around them that they are the exception. Unfortunately, it is the other way around. At the initial application level, about two-thirds of disability applicants are denied. The ones which are approved are either the most extreme cut-and-dry cases or the cases that had a complete file and were the easiest for Social Security workers to process. It is all too easy for the majority of disability cases to fall through the cracks.
If your disability appeal has been denied, it may help to understand the process and what will likely happen when you appeal. Here we will discuss each level and the appeal process necessary to continue.
1. Initial application. As discussed above, most applicants are denied at this level. If denied at that point, an applicant usually has 60 days to appeal the decision. If you are at this point, APPEAL. If you wait until that time has passed, you will have to reapply and will waste valuable time.
2. Reconsideration. Although some states skip this step, most states have this level at which your file is sent to Disability Determination Services for your claim to be reevaluated. At this point, any missing medical records will be requested, and you may be directed to a Social Security doctor for current evaluation records and a medical opinion. Unfortunately, your chances of being denied at this stage are even greater than the initial level. The wait for a disability decision at this point can be anywhere between two months and a year, depending on how much work is needed to complete your file before a decision is made. If you are denied at this stage, Appeal.
3. Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. This level may seem intimidating, but it is the point at which your Social Security case has the best chance of being approved. Unfortunately, this stage also has the greatest wait. Applicants may wait a year to even two years, just for the hearing to be scheduled. Then they must hold on a couple of months or so for the hearing, and then months for the decision. If you have been denied at this level, do not despair.
4. Appeals Council. Mary Green, Gek Law, “This is where the Social Security workers comb through your file and the Judge’s decision to see if a mistake was made or determine if any new evidence may warrant a different decision. Sometimes the disability case is remanded back to the judge, at which point the Social Security judge must reconsider your claim. This stage often takes a long time as your file is juggled between offices and levels. If you have a disability lawyer, he or she may write a brief on your claim to represent your side of the situation.
5. Federal District Court. At this point, another judge considers your application, and more briefs may be involved. This level can take quite a long time, with a year being the minimum wait. You can continue the appeals all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court at this point if you feel your case was unfairly handled and you do qualify under Social Security’s rules.
No matter where you are in the process, you can always hire a disability lawyer to increase your chances of being approved. Even if you go unrepresented, your chances can be good if you are informed. Best of luck.