If you’ve applied for Social Security Disability (SSD) and were denied, you are not alone. Close to 2/3 of those who apply for Social Security Disability benefits have their applications denied on the first try. When this happens, the applicant needs to start the appeals process, which potentially gives them up to four opportunities to obtain their benefits.
Ways to Appeal an SSD Denial
There are four levels of appeal after an SSD applicant has been denied. The first is to ask for a reconsideration. This means that the evidence of the case is reviewed by one of the colleagues of the person who denied the application is the first place. Only about 12% of those who ask the Social Security Administration to reconsider their decision are approved at this stage.
The next step is to ask for an SSD appeal hearing from an administrative law judge. The success rate here is much better. Two thirds of appeals heard by an ALJ are approved. Those who are denied by the ALJ judge need to have the Appeals Council review the case. At this point, the odds of approval go down again to around 3%. The final chance to have SSD decision appealed comes in Federal Court. The chances of winning are somewhat better, however the process is both expensive and time consuming.
Besides following the required application and appeals process, an SSD applicant also needs to move quickly. There is only 60 days to begin the process after the applicant receives their denial letter. Often, the judge will refuse to hear an appeal if the request comes in late, however, time limits are sometimes extended if a proper reason is given for the delay.
Hearings can occur either in person in one of 169 hearing offices across the country, or via a video teleconference. Most hearings are held within 75 miles of the applicants home, but sometimes travel may be required. If travel is not possible, a doctors report may be needed to explain why.
Taking Advantage Of the Hearing Stage
Since the odds of being awarded SSD benefits are the best during the hearing stage, it is important that you are as prepared as you can be before seeing the judge. One of the reasons that more people are successful at this stage is because it is often the point where they realize that they need to have someone who is more knowledgeable about the system advocate for them. Often, this person is an attorney.
As an attorney prepares for an eventual meeting with the judge, they can work with the applicant to strengthen their case and provide sources of evidence that a qualifying disability does exist, and that that disability is severe enough to prevent the person from working in the way that they once did, and that they are also unable to retrain to enter the workforce in another field. In some cases vocational or medical experts will be present at the hearing in order to give the SSD applicant a better advantage.
If is more likely, however, that an SSD hearing will contain a limited amount of drama, especially if the lawyer has properly prepared for the day.This includes reviewing the existing file which contains copies of the initial denial as well as the denial at the reconsideration stage.
This file should show what kind of medical evidence has already been presented, work activity questionnaires, functional capacity forms completed by doctors, and other information. By reviewing the file, experienced attorneys are often able to see where there were gaps in the original filing and the reason why the denial occurred. Having this information is important because it provides a base that shows where updated information is necessary. Any updated medical records need to be provided by the claimant and their attorney. At the hearing level, the Social Security Administration will not do any of their own record gathering. Having updated information is crucial, since in most cases, several months pass before the hearing happens, and several more months may pass before a decision is made. At this time, if the applicant is successful they will receive notice from the Social Security Administration about the decision as well at detailed information about their monthly benefit as well as the amount of any back pay resulting from a delay in the decision.
Contact Mark Schneider
The whole process of applying for disability benefits, and appealing a denial can be confusing to an applicant who is already dealing with the stress and discomfort of their disability. Having someone on your side as early as possible not only increases the chances that benefits will be approved but makes the whole process easier. We can help applicants gather thorough information about their disability and their ability to work as well as understand the process as it unfolds. If you are looking for help in getting social security disability benefits approved, contact us to see how we can increase your chances of success.