Winning Your SSD Appeal
If your Social Security Disability (SSD) claim has been denied, you’re far from alone. In fact, most initial SSD applications are denied. Many of those claims are later approved, so it’s important that you keep your case moving forward. Here’s what you need to know about your SSD appeal rights and how you can improve your chances of approval at each stage.
Don’t Lose Out on the Opportunity to Appeal
The first and most basic tip for improving your chances of receiving SSD benefits after a denial is to make sure you don’t lose your appeal rights. If you miss the deadline to request reconsideration or to request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ), you can reapply. But, you may lose a significant amount of money in back benefits if you have to start over. And, you’ll be all the way back at the beginning of the process, meaning that it may take quite a bit longer to receive your benefits.
Four Levels of SSD Appeals
The Social Security disability appeals process involves multiple steps. After each denial, you have up to 60 days to initiate the next step.
Request for Reconsideration
The request for reconsideration is the first and simplest step in the SSD appeals process. A request for reconsideration is like a do-over on the initial application. A different decision-maker reviews your application from scratch and makes an independent decision. A small percentage of disability applicants are approved at this stage. It’s not a surprise that the success rate is low since it’s basically a repeat of the initial application review. But you can increase your chances of being approved on reconsideration.
Though most applicants don’t take advantage of the opportunity, you can supplement your application when you request reconsideration. An experienced disability benefits advocate can explain what type of additional information and documentation could strengthen your application on reconsideration.
You’ll want to make every effort to get your claim approved at the reconsideration stage because it can take a long time to get to a hearing. In a few areas, you may get a hearing in as little as five to six months. But, that’s not the norm. Average wait times in different areas range from eight months to more than two years.
Administrative Law Judge Hearing
Most claims that are approved on appeal are approved at this stage. While your initial claim and your request for reconsideration were determined based on your application and the supporting documents you provided, the ALJ hearing offers the opportunity to appear and present evidence. You can even bring witnesses to testify on your behalf.
The proceeding isn’t as formal as a court hearing, but the ALJ will question your witnesses and may call other witnesses to provide additional information or insights. You or your advocate will also have the opportunity to question any witnesses. This opportunity to present additional evidence and call witnesses adds a new dimension to proving your claim. But, you have to know how to make the most of it. That starts with knowing what–if any–additional information you should submit in advance of the hearing.
If you’ve come this far in the process and have been denied SSD benefits at the initial application stage and on reconsideration, it’s time to get help. The ALJ hearing offers the greatest opportunity you’ve seen, but is also a live legal proceeding with rules to follow.
You’ll have to ensure that you have the most up-to-date medical information to present and that you choose your witnesses carefully to provide the type of information the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for. You’ll also need to be prepared to ask the right questions of witnesses the ALJ calls, such as medical experts and vocational experts.
Appeals Council Review
Many overviews of the Social Security disability benefits appeals process leave out this step. That’s because, unlike the request for reconsideration, ALJ hearing, and appeal to federal court, the Appeals Council review is not guaranteed. Instead, the Council itself determines whether or not to conduct the requested review.
When the Appeals Council does review your case, they may make a decision themselves, or they may send your case back to an administrative law judge for further consideration.
Appealing to the Federal District Court
If you’ve been denied at every level of the SSA’s internal appeals process (or you were denied at the ALJ hearing level and the Appeals Council doesn’t take up your case), you can file an appeal in the federal District Court that has jurisdiction in your area. Unlike the prior stages in the appeals process, this is a federal lawsuit that requires knowledge of federal court rules and procedures.
However, you must act quickly. Although this is a federal court proceeding and not an administrative one, you still have just 60 days from the last denial to request review from the federal court.
The Bottom Line on SSD Appeals
Denial rates are high at every level of the Social Security disability benefits application and appeals processes. Sometimes, those denials are due to technical disqualifications like insufficient work credits. But, often, claims are denied and appeals are lost simply because the SSD applicant didn’t know how to effectively present their claim, or didn’t understand the type and extent of medical documentation required.
If your SSD claim has been denied, your best next step is to talk to an experienced Social Security disability benefits advocate. Ideally, you’ll get help before the request for reconsideration, since that is your last opportunity to secure SSD benefits in a relatively short time. If you’re beyond that point, we can still help. The process is just a bit longer.
At Disability Help Group, our advocates have worked with thousands of people fighting for disability benefits. We have an in-depth understanding of the process and know what type of evidence the SSA is looking for. To learn more about how we can help you construct a strong SSD application, pursue a request for reconsideration, or present your case to an administrative law judge, call us today at (800) 800-3332 or contact us here now.