The Exhaustive Disability Appeals Process
If you have filed an initial application for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration along with medical records and other supporting documentation, and received an unfavorable written decision, the next step is the reconsideration level. Keep in mind the Social Security Administration will deem you to have received the notice denying you disability benefits, within five days after the date on it, unless you can prove that you didn’t receive it within that period. There are similar time constraints during every step of a disability appeal, so it is important that you are aware of them and act accordingly. Don’t take chances. Check out SSA.gov, visit your local Social Security office, or contact a disability lawyer. For reconsideration you must complete a Appeal Disability Report and Request for Reconsideration and send them in to your local Social Security office. They will then forward them to the State Disability Determination Services office that originally reviewed your disability benefits case. Although it won’t be the same team that reviews your records the second time around, be realistic folks, because they usually just back up the original disability examiners’ decision. If you receive an unfavorable decision at the reconsideration level, the next step is to go to a hearing. Complete the Appeal Disability Report and Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and send them into your local office. Meeting face-to-face with a judge takes a long time - in many cases years, before you actually appear at a hearing with your disability attorney. Although the ALJ is required to be neutral and detached, fair and impartial, and the hearing is supposed to be non-adversarial, many of these judges fathom themselves advocates for their agency rather than finders of fact, and are predisposed to denying you benefits (more on this in future posts). If you lose at the hearing level, the next step is the Appeals Council Review. Complete the Request for Review of Decision/Order of Administrative Law Judge and send it in to your local office. It will be forwarded to the Office Of Hearings and Appeals in Falls Church, VA. This review is on the papers. A well-reasoned brief citing statutory and case authority is essential (more later). The Appeals Council rarely grants disability benefits on it’s own. However, they will determine whether your hearing was fair, and if not, send your case back for a second hearing. Once again, this can take years, but at the very least, gives you another bite at the apple. If the Appeals Council either refuses to review your case or denies your disability appeal, the next and last step is to take your case to federal district court. There, a federal judge has the power to award you disability benefits, deny you benefits, or send the case back for another hearing.