Understanding Your Social Security Disability Denial Letter

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Understanding Your Social Security Disability Denial Letter

If you’re like most SSDI applicants, your initial application for Social Security disability benefits will be denied. It’s important not to lose heart when you get that denial letter–many people who are denied at first do ultimately receive benefits. However, you may have to fight for your benefits. 

The first step toward successfully appealing an SSDI denial is to take the time to thoroughly read and understand your denial letter. Once you receive the letter, you’ll have a limited time to act. So, if you don’t entirely understand the letter or don’t know what additional information you might be able to provide to strengthen your case, get help. An experienced disability benefits advocate will be familiar with the format of the letter and the language the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to describe problems or weaknesses in your application. 

Know Which Type of Denial You’ve Received

Social Security disability applications can be denied for medical or non-medical reasons. Non-medical denials are typically more straightforward since they relate to technical requirements such as earning too much money or not having sufficient work credits to be eligible. 

Technical Social Security Disability Denials

If you truly didn’t accrue sufficient work credits to qualify for Social Security disability, that’s a hard stop. You can’t persuade the SSA to award you disability benefits if you aren’t technically qualified. Mistakes do happen, though, so if you’re denied for not having enough work credits thoroughly check the record and make sure nothing has been left out or misreported. If there are credits missing, you can submit evidence to correct the record. 

A denial based on having earnings above the eligibility cut-off ($1,470 in 2023, or $2.460 if you’re blind) isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, because it’s common for disabling conditions to worsen over time. For most people, four to six months pass between the time they apply and the time they receive a decision letter. In other words, by the time you receive that letter, you may have been forced to cut back your work, or even stop working. 

Medical SSDI Denials

The technical issues described above may be fairly easy to understand in a denial letter, but medical denials can be much more complicated. For example, the explanation section of the letter may start out by confirming much of the information you provided. The SSA may agree that you suffer from the condition you’ve based your application on. But then, the denial letter may go on to say that the impairment doesn’t meet or equal a listed criteria, or that you are able to return to work.

If the denial letter says you can return to work, they may have drawn one of two different conclusions. The first is that you are medically able to return to the work you did before you got sick or suffered an injury. If the SSA concludes that you are able to perform past relevant work, they will also conclude that you are not disabled. However, you may be unable to return to your past work and still not meet SSA’s definition of disabled. That’s because SSA’s test for determining whether you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) looks beyond your work experience. If there are significant jobs in the national economy that you could perform with whatever limitations your condition creates, you will not be considered disabled. 

Procedural Information in Your SSDI Denial Letter

In addition to explaining why your claim has been denied, your denial letter will contain information about the next steps you can take if you want to continue to pursue Social Security disability benefits. This will include a deadline for taking the next step. It’s critical that you take note of the deadline and follow proper procedures in moving your case forward. If your time expires, you can apply again. However, the decision that you were not disabled from the onset date you listed will stand, so you could lose months or years of benefits if you have to start over.

Next Steps after Receiving a Social Security Disability Denial Letter

Once you’ve read and thoroughly understood your denial letter (or gotten help understanding the denial notice), your next step will be to determine how best to handle the request for reconsideration. Reconsideration is the first stage in the SSDI appeals process. But, it isn’t strictly what it sounds like. Your case will be decided anew by a different person. But you aren’t limited to the original record. If you have additional documentation you didn’t submit with your original application, you’ve noted a mistake in the record, or your circumstances have changed since you submitted your application, you can send new information along with your request for reconsideration.

If you didn’t work with a disability benefits advocate when you filed your application, this is the best time to get help. It may be difficult for someone unfamiliar with the process to know what type of supplemental information might tip the scales on reconsideration. An experienced advocate can help determine what type of additional evidence is needed and how best to present that information.

Though our focus here is on the original denial letter, it’s important to note that most applicants who request reconsideration will be denied again at that stage. That means another notice and another deadline–this time, to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). By this point, several months or even a year may have passed since you originally applied. It’s easy to get discouraged. But, this would be the wrong time to give up. 

Most of the applicants who were originally denied but eventually receive benefits are approved at this stage. That’s likely in part because the opportunity for a hearing before an ALJ gives applicants an opportunity to talk to the decision-maker, present witnesses, and have an experienced advocate by their side ensuring that all of the important information is presented clearly and concisely.


Wherever you are in the process, you owe it to yourself to learn more about what Disability Help Group can do for you. Call (800) 800-3332 right now, or fill out our contact form.

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