The Ultimate Guide: What to Do When Your Social Security Disability Has Been Denied

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The Ultimate Guide: What to Do When Your Social Security Disability Has Been Denied

Most Social Security disability (SSDI) claims are denied at first. So, the very first thing to do when you receive a denial notice is remember to stay positive. A lot of people who are initially denied end up receiving disability benefits. Once you’ve taken a deep breath and reminded yourself that the process is just beginning, the next step is to carefully read your notice. 

What to Look for in a Social Security Disability Denial Notice

You’ll want to read the entire notice carefully. In particular, you’ll want to find information about: 

  • The reason your claim was denied, 
  • How you can request reconsideration or appeal, and
  • The deadline for taking that next step

If you miss a deadline for requesting reconsideration or appealing denial of Social Security disability benefits, you can reapply. But, having to start over can set the process back by several months. Working with an experienced Social Security disability advocate can help keep the process moving forward smoothly and help ensure that you are providing the information the Social Security Administration (SSA) needs to approve your claim. 

You can choose to get help at any stage of the process, but earlier is usually better. The application and appeals process can take more than two years–two years during which you are not receiving disability benefits. Presenting the strongest application possible and then strategically supplementing as you move through the process will give you the best chance at the earliest possible approval.

Next Steps after an SSDI Denial


The next step after an initial denial is to request reconsideration. The request for reconsideration isn’t an appeal. It’s just like the initial application process, except that a different person reviews the application and supporting documents and makes a fresh decision. 

Many applicants mechanically request reconsideration without giving any real thought to the reason their application was denied and what they might be able to do to improve their chances of approval on reconsideration. But, the SSA does accept new information and documentation at the reconsideration stage if you choose to submit it. That means you have the opportunity to carefully consider the reason for the denial and what additional records or other materials you could submit to better support your claim. 

You have 60 days to file a request for reconsideration. While you’ll want to act promptly to keep the process moving forward, that 60-day window allows you time to supplement your application with your request if that would be helpful. 

Requesting a Hearing before an ALJ

Most requests for reconsideration are denied. That’s partly because most people don’t take advantage of the opportunity to supplement their applications. But, the reconsideration stage has the lowest approval rate of any step in the social security disability application and appeals process. 

If your request for reconsideration is unsuccessful, the next step will be to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). When you request a hearing, you’ll be asked to choose between a hearing on your disability determination and a non-medical hearing. 

You have the right to be represented by a Social Security disability advocate at this hearing, and working with an experienced advocate can significantly increase your chances of success. The sooner you involve your representative, the better. Though a disability advocate can appear with you at a hearing that you scheduled on your own, getting help before you make your hearing request can help set you up for success. 

The ALJ hearing stage is the most interactive and has the highest rate of approvals. In addition to the ALJ, the SSA may have a medical expert at the hearing to ask questions and look at your medical records. It is important to make sure that you are well prepared to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the ALJ and provide additional evidence–including witnesses. Your disability benefits advocate can help you decide whether calling witnesses would be helpful to your claim and, if so, who would make the best witnesses for you. 

Appeals Council Review

If your claim is still denied after the hearing, you can request a review by the Appeals Council. You may not have heard of this step before. The Appeals Council holds hearings in only a small percentage of cases. Most are decided on the record, and most denials are affirmed at this stage. 

The Appeals Council review is the last stage in the SSA appeals process, but it isn’t necessarily the end of the road. 

Appealing Your Social Security Disability Denial in Federal District Court

If you’ve been all the way through the administrative appeals process with the SSA and your disability benefits claim has not been approved, you may choose to appeal the decision in court. 

The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the district where you live. There is at least one federal district court for each U.S. state, and some have as many as four. You can find the right one by entering your address or zip code on the U.S. Courts website

Challenging your SSDI denial in court is much more complicated than pursuing the appeals process with the SSA. Instead of having forms to complete to request a review, you’ll have to draft a complaint to file with the court. You will want an attorney who is experienced with Social Security disability claims to file this claim for you because there are many technical and procedural requirements that are unfamiliar to most people. 

In some circumstances, you may be able to file an appeal if the federal district court rules against you. However, this type of appeal is very different from the administrative appeal, and can’t be filed simply because you are unhappy with the decision. Instead, you must be able to point to a legal error. 

Talk to a Disability Benefits Advocate Early

As you can see, the process of securing Social Securing disability benefits can be long and complicated. And, most applicants are denied at the application stage. Each step in the process takes time, which means the further you have to go in the appeals process, the longer it will take to get benefits. 

Working with an experienced Social Security disability advocate from the beginning can improve your chances of being among the small percentage who are approved in the first round, and at each stage that follows. 

To learn more about how Disability Help Group can assist you with the SSDI application and appeals process, contact us or call (800) 800-2009 right now.

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