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A Primer: The Social Security Disability Benefits Application Process

Posted by attorney Brian Wayson

The Social Security Disability Benefits Application Process

Sadly, more than 80% of Social Security disability initial applications are denied at the first stage in a frustrating process that may take several months as technically examiners do not have set time limits for processing your claim. Many individuals suffering from legitimate disabling conditions that prevent them from working, most likely will be denied Social Security disability benefits when they first apply. When your application is denied you have the legal right to appeal that decision – the deadlines for appealing a denial generally are strict and not very long so do not delay in appealing a denial from the SSA.

Unfortunately, more than 85% of those who appeal their initial or first stage denial are again denied at the second stage or reconsideration in another several month process that often increases one’s level of frustration. Clearly, many individuals suffering from legitimate disabling conditions that prevent them from working are denied Social Security disability benefits when they apply and again when they ask for reconsideration of that initial denial. Once again, you have the legal right to appeal that reconsideration decision by asking for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) – and yes, once again, the deadlines for appealing a reconsideration denial generally are strict and not very long so do not delay in asking for a hearing before the SSA judges.

If you already are or have been receiving Social Security disability benefits and the SSA stops those benefits you also have the right to appeal the stoppage (or cessation) of your benefits. And yes, the deadlines for appealing a stoppage of benefits generally are strict and not very long so do not delay in appealing a cessation of benefits by the SSA.

Unfortunately, with few exceptions the time from when you request a hearing before an ALJ and when you get to go see the judge will be 18 – 24 months (yes, you read that correctly almost two years on average.)

The good news is that more than 60% of the individuals who go before an ALJ are awarded disability benefits by a judge’s fully favorable decision. A few months after the hearing the ALJ will issue a written decision. This decisions will fully favorable to the individual claimant, partially favorable (usually the benefits begin at a later date than you requested on your initial application) or an unfavorable (a denial) decision.

What about those individuals who do not receive a fully favorable decision after seeing the judge? Once again, those individuals have the right to appeal the ALJ’s denial to the Appeals Council of the SSA and once again the deadlines for filing such an appeal generally are strict and not very long so do not delay in appealing an unfavorable decision from an ALJ. Regrettably, more than 95% of the cases submitted to the Appeals Council are declined (the Appeals Council agrees with the ALJ’s decision.)

After the seemingly inevitable Appeals Council denial, an individual still fighting to win disability benefits from the SSA can file an appeal with the federal district court in his or her state of residence.

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