As every American who has ever worked knows, taxes are taken out of each paycheck. Part of those taxes pay for Social Security benefits, including disability insurance. The way the system is supposed to work is that if you suffer a long-term disability which prevents you from working, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is there for you as a financial “safety net.” Unfortunately, the system does not always work the way that it should. Every year, millions of Americans apply for SSDI and nearly two out of three initial applications are denied.
If you are among those whose initial application is denied, what should you do? First, let us tell you the two things you shouldn’t do: Do not give up and do not attempt to file a new application. About half of those who appeal after a denial are awarded disability benefits, so persevering helps many Americans get the benefits they have earned and often desperately need. Filing a new application would simply prolong the process, and may cause you to lose out on benefits altogether!
If Social Security has turned down your application for benefits, it is in your best interest to seek help from a local attorney who exclusively practices Social Security disability law. Statistics show that hiring a Social Security disability lawyer for the appeals process increases your chances of winning disability benefits. Sometimes people are reluctant to hire a lawyer because they are concerned about the cost, but most Social Security Disability lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if they win your case.
So, how does the appeals process work?
If you wish to appeal, you or your attorney must complete and return the proper Social Security appeal forms (also available electronically) within 60 days from the date you receive a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) turning down your application for benefits. (SSA assumes you receive the letter five days after it is sent.)
Generally, there are four levels of appeal.
A request for reconsideration is the first appeal to your initial denial. The Disability Determination Service will do another review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision. SSA will look at the evidence submitted when the original decision was made, plus any new evidence. The reconsideration appeal can take six months or more.
If your claim is denied again under reconsideration, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the original decision or the reconsideration of your case. This is the first and often best opportunity to present your case in person to the individual deciding your claim. Therefore, it is important to meet with your attorney in person on a date prior to the hearing in order to fully prepare.
If you get an unfavorable ruling at your hearing you may ask for a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council. The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but a review is not guaranteed. In order to have the best chance of success in front of the Appeals Council, it is helpful to write (or have your attorney write) a brief outlining your disagreement with the judge’s decision. The Appeals Council frequently refuses to review claims. When it does review a case, it generally does not award benefits outright. Instead, it sends your case back to the same judge for another hearing.
Your last level of appeal is to file a lawsuit in the federal district court if the Appeals Council turns down your request for review, or if you are not satisfied with the Appeals Council ruling on your case. There are strict deadlines and other rules for filing a claim in federal court that would be best handled by an experienced attorney.
To help you better understand the multi-step process if your disability application is denied, we have created a short video in which Nash Attorney Demetra Geller spells out the process in clear, easy-to-understand language. And for more insider information about Social Security disability, check out the Nash Disability blog. It’s loaded with FREE tips and advice. If you are disabled, unable to work, and are considering applying for Social Security disability, or have been turned down for benefits, contact the local Chicago attorneys at Nash Disability Law for a free evaluation of your situation.