The Process of An SSD Claim

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The Process of an SSD Claim

The process of applying for Social Security disability (SSD) and then potentially going through multiple levels of appeal can be long and frustrating. The more you know about the SSD application and appeals process going in, the better prepared you will be for the way your claim progresses. You’ll also be in a better position to submit the strongest application and documentation possible, increasing your chances of approval earlier in the process. 

Here’s what you can expect. 

The Initial SSD Application

The SSD process begins when you complete an application. The most efficient way to apply for SSD benefits–and the one with the shortest average processing time–is to apply online. You’ll want to be prepared before you start your application. You will need to provide a lot of information, and some documentation. You can find a list of information you’ll need to get started on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website

Though it’s best to have your information organized before you start your SSD application, you can save your progress and return to your application later if necessary. Don’t rush or get sloppy. Most SSD applications are denied at this stage. Your chances of getting approved in the first round are greater if you provide thorough documentation in a well-organized format that makes it easy for the SSA to find the relevant information.

Once you submit your claim, the SSA says it typically takes 6-9 months for processing. Sometimes, you’ll receive a request for additional information or notice that the SSA has scheduled you for a medical exam or testing to help them make a decision. It’s important to promptly cooperate with any requests you receive from them while your application is pending.

The SSD Appeals Process

If you are among the majority of SSD applicants whose initial claim is denied, you’ll have the opportunity to appeal. If you miss your chance to appeal, you can reapply later. But, that’s not the best approach, and you can lose out on back benefits that way. It’s best to act quickly to take full advantage of the appeals process. 

Step One: Request Reconsideration

The first step in the SSA appeals process is to request reconsideration. You have 60 days from the date your initial application was denied to request reconsideration. At this stage, a different examiner makes a fresh determination on your claim. Since the process is identical to the initial application review, it’s no surprise that most claims are once again denied on reconsideration. 

You can give yourself a better chance of approval on reconsideration, though. When you submit your request, you also have an opportunity to submit any additional information to help the new examiner make a decision. Most people don’t take advantage of this opportunity, and lose the chance to strengthen their applications before their claims are reconsidered. 

Step Two: Administrative Hearing

If your SSD claim is denied on reconsideration, you will once again have 60 days to appeal. This time, your appeal will be heard by an administrative law judge (ALJ). This process is more involved. You’ll have the opportunity to present additional evidence, including calling witnesses. The ALJ can also call witnesses, usually medical or vocational experts. 

While success rates are higher at the ALJ hearing, preparation is all the more important. If you have been managing the process alone up to this point, this is a good time to think about getting an experienced disability benefits advocate on your side. 

Because this step is a live hearing before an ALJ, it can take much longer than the previous stages. Depending on where you are in the country, it can take several months to two years or more just to get to the hearing. Then, it typically takes a few additional months to get a decision.

Step Three: Appeals Council Review

If the ALJ denies your SSD claim, the next step is to request review by the Appeals Council within 60 days of the denial. This step is different from the other stages in the appeals process, because there is no set procedure you have a right to. Instead, the Appeals Council decides whether to review your case, decline to review your case, or send your case back to the ALJ for further consideration.

How long this stage takes depends on what type of action the Appeals Council takes. On average, it might be three to six months. But, it could be more or less. 

Step Four: Federal District Court

If the Appeals Council declines to review your SSD denial or rules against you, you will have exhausted your administrative appeals. But, that doesn’t mean you’re at the end of the road. You can proceed to your local federal district court. This is a more complex process, and you’ll have to act quickly. Though the time for filing most court proceedings is much longer, this stage in the SSD appeals process is treated like any other, and you have just 60 days from the Appeals Council determination to file suit.

Because this step is a court proceeding, the required procedures are different and more formal. And, you’ll have to pay a filing fee. It’s generally not a good idea to attempt to tackle this stage in the appeals process on your own. 

Get the Help You Need With Your SSD Claim Early

At Disability Help Group, we’re here for you whether you’re just filing your initial SSD application or have already started working your way through the appeals process. But, it’s best to get help and guidance as early in the process as possible. A strong, well-supported initial application could mean the difference between approval in six months and approval two years or more down the road. 

Our experienced SSD benefits advocates understand the process from start to finish, and know what type of information the SSA will need to make the right determination. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at 800-800-3332 or fill out our contact form right now here. 

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