Learn About the Steps In The SSDI Appeals Process and the Timeframe for Approval
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) statistics for 2014, only 32% of all social security disability claims were approved at the initial application. If you find yourself among the two-thirds of applicants whose claims were denied, you will need to utilize the SSDI appeals process if you wish to have your claim reevaluated.
There are four levels to the SSDI appeals process. Beginning with the initial denial of your claim, you have 60 days from the date you receive a letter from the SSA denying your claim to appeal the decision. The amount of time it takes to decide on an appeal increases at each level. Reconsideration is often the shortest, with a decision being handed down in less time than the initial review. Appeals at the higher levels can take up to a year or more, and are largely dependent on the caseload of the hearing officer.
It is advisable that you consult with an experienced social security disability attorney prior to submitting an appeal at any level. An attorney can not only help guide you through the process, but can ensure that you provide the right documentation in support of your disability and its impact on your ability to work.
The first level of appeal is reconsideration. Reconsideration is a complete review of your disability claim form and all supporting documentation, including any new evidence by a representative at your local SSA field office. Your claim will be assigned to an SSA employee who took no part in the initial review, so there will be an unbiased pair of eyes reviewing your file.
Reconsideration generally does not take as long as the initial review. Since the case file has already been established it can often be completed in under four months. But the length of time it takes to review your appeal depends in large part on the disability examiner’s caseload and whether there has been a change in your medical condition that requires obtaining new supporting documentation.
Reconsideration also offers the lowest chance of winning – in 2012, only 8 percent of claims reviewed at this level were approved.
Hearing in Front of an Administrative Law Judge
If appeal for reconsideration is denied you can request a social security disability hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The SSDI appeals hearing is less formal than a traditional courtroom trial but it functions largely the same way.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) will review your entire case file, along with any updated medical information you provide prior to the hearing. At the hearing you may call witnesses to testify regarding your disability and its impact. You may also testify on your own behalf. During your hearing, the ALJ can question you or any other witnesses.
You are not required to attend the disability hearing, although it is usually to your benefit to do so. If your disability prevents you from attending the hearing you can request to participate via video conference or other means.
Review by Appeals Council
If the ALJ denies your claim, the next step is an appeal to the SSA’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council looks at all requests it receives, but it may deny your request for review if it believes that the decision of the ALJ was correct.
If the Appeals Council grants your request for review, it may choose to decide the case itself or send it back to a different ALJ for a second disability hearing. As with other levels of review, you may provide updated information detailing your disability and its negative impact on your ability to work.
Lawsuit in Federal Court
Your claim may be denied following a review by the Appeals Council – either because the Council declined to review the case, decided to uphold the denial of benefits, or sent the case back to an ALJ who denied benefits. If this happens to you, your final recourse is to file a civil lawsuit in federal court.
While only one-third of all disability claims are initially approved – and even less at the reconsideration level – appeals at the social security disability hearing level or higher have a much higher success rate. In 2012, 66 percent of all cases appealed to an administrative law judge or the Appeals Council were approved. So if your disability claim was initially denied, it is worth your time and effort to consult a social security disability attorney to discuss an appeal.
The Law Office of Attorney Neil H. Good has over 25 years of experience in social security disability law and helps SSD first time applicants as well as those that have been denied benefits. If your claim has been denied contact our office online for a free case evaluation or call #(847) 577-4476. We have experience in SSD appeals at all levels.