For people who have a medical condition that prevents them from working, Social Security Disability benefits can be an invaluable lifeline. Unfortunately, the process of applying for benefits can sometimes be quite complicated.
A claimant’s chances of being approved for SSD benefits can be improved by working with a disability attorney who can help the claimant navigate the application process and present sufficient evidence of disability. However, even this isn’t a guarantee – Social Security Administration data shows that as many as 65 percent of all disability claims are denied at the initial application stage.
If your SSD claim has been denied, don’t despair. There are four levels of appeal you can utilize to seek benefits:
- Reconsideration: During reconsideration, your claim is fully reviewed by an SSA staff member who did not play a role in reviewing your initial application. Before the reconsideration, you will have an opportunity to submit new evidence, though this is not required. Reconsiderations are usually conducted by reviewing the evidence without the claimant present.
- Hearing: If your claim is denied on reconsideration, you can ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who was not involved in the review of your initial application or the reconsideration.
If you request a hearing, you will usually be required to attend in person and to answer any questions that the judge has. If you choose to, you may also bring other witnesses – like your doctor or your vocational counselor – to testify at the hearing. If you cannot attend the hearing, it is important to notify the SSA as soon as possible. In some cases, they will be able to help you make alternate arrangements.
- Appeals Council: If you disagree with the outcome of the hearing, you can as the Social Security Appeals Council to review your case. However, unlike hearings, not everyone is entitled to a review. The Appeals Council can choose not to review your case if it believes the administrative law judge reached the correct decision in the hearing.
- Federal Court: If the Appeals Council declines to review your case – or if it does, but you disagree with the outcome – you can file a lawsuit in federal court. The case will be conducted like any other lawsuit, with all the evidentiary and procedural requirements that entails.
At each step of the process, there are strict time limits for contesting decisions and moving to the next phase. For this reason, it is advisable that you contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney as soon as possible after receiving unfavorable news from the SSA. The attorney will be able to help you evaluate your claim and figure out the best options for moving forward.