The Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program provides benefits to individuals who are unable to work because they have a medical condition that will last at least one year or cause death. When you apply for SSDI benefits, Social Security will collect your medical and other information and then render a decision about whether your condition meets the definition of disability mentioned above. When the Social Security Administration (SSA) renders a decision on your claim for benefits, it will send you a letter explaining how it came to its decision.

If you filed a claim for disability benefits and the SSA denied that claim, do not be discouraged, as you can appeal the denial of your claim for benefits. You can appeal Social Security Disability denials at each stage of the process.

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Social Security Disability Appeals Process

There are, generally, four levels of appeal:

Though you may choose to handle your own Social Security Disability appeal, you may have a better experience and outcome with the assistance of an SSDI lawyer, representative, or advocate.

SSDI Reconsideration

In a reconsideration, an individual who did not participate in the first decision will do a complete review of your claim. To begin this step of the appeals process, you may write to the SSA, complete this social security disability appeal form, or file online. You or your representative must make a written request for reconsideration no later than 60 days after receiving the original determination’s written notice. In addition to new evidence, all of the evidence submitted when the first decision was made will be considered.

In most reconsiderations, the individual who filed the appeal of the original decision is not required to be present. However, you may meet with a Social Security representative to show why you believe that you still have a disability if the original decision was that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because of an improved medical condition.

Unfortunately, the chances of winning a social security disability appeal at this stage are relatively low. On average, the reconsideration approval rate is only about 13%.

Social Security Disability Appeal Hearing

You may request a social security disability administrative law judge hearing if you disagree with the reconsideration hearing by writing to the SSA or online by filling out this social security disability appeal form. You or your representative must request for a hearing no later than 60 days after you receive the notice of the reconsideration determination.

The judge who conducts the hearing will have had no part in your case’s original decision or reconsideration. At the hearing, the administrative law judge will question you and your witnesses. Medical or vocational experts may also act as witnesses on your behalf at the hearing and be questioned by the administrative law judge.

In March 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SSA closed Social Security hearing offices to the public for in-person service. However, in the fall of 2020, the SSA introduced a new hearing option in the form of online video hearings using Microsoft Teams. You can attend your hearing from any private place with a secure Internet connection using a phone, tablet, or computer.

After the hearing, based on all the information in your case, the judge will render a decision. The SSA will send you a copy of the judge’s decision and a letter. Fortunately, your chances of prevailing at the hearing level are higher than at the reconsideration level. At this level, nationally, forty-seven percent of all disability claimants win at the hearing level.

However, research demonstrates that a mere 34 percent of claimants who were not represented by an attorney or advocate were approved for disability benefits. Yet, 60% of claimants who were represented by a lawyer or representative were approved. Thus, being represented at a hearing before an administrative law judge can significantly increase your chances of being approved for benefits.

Social Security Disability Appeals Council

You may request the Social Security’s Appeals Council to review your case if you disagree with the hearing decision by writing to the SSA or by completing this social security disability appeal form. You or your representative must request an appeal to the Appeals Council by no later than 60 days after you receive the hearing determination.

The Appeals Council may deny your request if it concludes that the administrative law judge from the hearing was correct in his or her decision. If the Appeals Council concludes that it should review your case, it will return your case to an administrative law judge for further review or it will decide the case itself. If your case is returned to an administrative law judge, the SSA will send you a letter and a copy of the decision.

The chances of winning a social security disability appeal at this level are lower than at any other level of appeal. Only one percent of claimants who reach this level of appeal are approved for benefits. Also, the Appeals Council sends approximately nine percent of cases back to the administrative law judge who decided the case at the hearing stage so he or she can correct any errors the Appeals Council believe were made. Thus, the Appeals Council approves the administrative law judge’s denial of disability benefits ninety percent of the time.

Federal Court

You may file a lawsuit in federal district court if you disagree with the Appeal Council’s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case. You must file your lawsuit no later than 60 days after you receive notice of the Appeals Council’s decision.

Federal courts reverse an administrative law judge’s decision to deny benefits approximately two percent of the time. However, federal judges send just under 50 percent of cases back to the hearing level so that the administrative law judge who decided at that level can correct any errors the federal court finds were made.

Social Security Disability Appeal Time Frame

At each step in the appeals process, you have 60 days to file your appeal online or in writing.  Your SSDI representative must collect and submit all necessary documents during the Social Security Disability appeal time frame to potentially be approved for SSD benefits.

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