Over two million people apply for Social Security disability benefits each year and a majority of those applications are denied in the first few steps of review. However, the application process for claimants who have initially been denied benefits does not have to stop there. If your disability claim has been denied, you can appeal that decision and get another opportunity to obtain disability benefits.
The chance of a claimant’s disability benefits being approved increases significantly when a claimant takes the time to appeal an initial denial. As a result, it is important for claimants to understand the steps in a Social Security appeal and how a Social Security appeal lawyer can help win your appeal and secure the disability benefits you deserve.
Steps in a Social Security appeal
1) Reconsideration by the state Disability Determination Service
If a claimant receives notice that his or her disability claim has been denied, the claimant must appeal the denial in writing within 60 days. This written request triggers the state’s Disability Determination Service (DDS) to reconsider the claimant’s application. The application is then assigned to a different disability claims examiner than the one who initially considered the claimant’s application. The new disability claims examiner reviews the application and the claimant’s medical records with the help of a medical consultant. At this point, a claimant can submit additional evidence that the DDS will consider along with the evidence included in the original application.
2) Hearing by an administrative law judge
If a claimant is denied disability benefits again after reconsideration, the claimant may continue the appeals process by requesting a hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the hearing, claimants or their Social Security appeal lawyers are able to question witnesses and present arguments before the ALJ. The ALJ reviews the evidence and considers witness testimony in making a decision.
3) Review in front of an appeals council
If an ALJ denies a claimant’s benefits after a hearing, the claimant may appeal further by requesting review of his or her application by an appeals council. The appeals council, which is a team of administrative appeals judges, considers all of the evidence from the claimant’s application, reviews any additional evidence from the ALJ’s findings, and can consult with physicians before making a decision. The appeals council can reverse, change, or uphold the ALJ’s decision or even send the case back to the ALJ for another hearing.
4) Review in federal court
If an appeals council upholds the ALJ’s denial of benefits or dismisses a claimant’s case, the claimant may appeal the decision by filing suit in federal district court. The federal case requires filing legal documents such as complaints and opening briefs and may involve oral argument before the judge. Though few claimants appeal their case to this level of the process, over 80 percent of the claimants who appeal their denial to a federal court are ultimately approved for disability benefits.
How a Social Security appeal lawyer can help you
Though disability claimants are not required to hire an attorney to assist them, hiring an experienced Social Security appeal lawyer greatly improves the chances of winning a disability benefits claim. In fact, claimants who are represented by attorneys at the hearing level are more than twice as likely to be approved for disability benefits than claimants who are unrepresented.
A social security lawyer can help with your appeal by doing the following things:
1. Ensure a claimant meets important deadlines throughout the appeal process
2. Determine whether a case needs additional evidence and can help claimants with collecting this evidence for appeal
3. Fill in gaps in your record by gathering and assessing medical records and obtaining doctors’ opinions about your ability to work. A lawyer can obtain these records and opinions quickly, know whether your records need updating, and can use additional evidence effectively throughout your appeal.
Additionally, a Social Security appeal lawyer can effectively advocate on behalf of a claimant’s interests during the hearing stages of an appeal. A lawyer has the skills to prepare claimants for questioning and can help claimants practice answering questions the judge might ask. A lawyer can fully examine witnesses and experts in court by developing useful testimony and cross-examining experts. A lawyer’s familiarity with the procedure of hearings and ability to succeed in court can be quite valuable.
If you want to know more about appealing a denied social security/disability case contact Neil H. Good online or call toll-free #(847) 577-4476 to schedule your free case evaluation to discuss your specific health condition and your SSDI eligibility.