The Social Security Disability Claims Process
What to Expect and How to Speed Up the Disability Benefits Process
The Social Security Disability claims process can have many steps depending on how many times your claim is rejected and you appeal. Overall, there are five stages, each with its own format, rules, and decision makers. The first four stages are within the Social Security Administration, and the last stage is independent of Social Security.Filing Your Disability Claim
The initial stage takes place after you file a Social Security Disability claim with the Social Security office. Your original claim is reviewed by a disability examiner working at the Disability Determination agency in your state. This disability examiner will review your file, medical records, and other important information and consult with a doctor to determine if you are disabled and eligible for Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, the claimant will typically not know the identity of his or her disability examiner, and will have no personal contact with the examiner. Overall, 60% of the claims at this stage are rejected.« Back to the Top
If the disability examiner rejects your claim, which is very typical, you can request an appeal called "reconsideration." Reconsideration, as the name suggests, is less like an appeal and more like asking Social Security to take a second look at your claim and "reconsider" its decision. As in the initial stage, another disability examiner in your local Disability Determination agency will review your claim and issue a decision. Also, as before, the claimant will not have any personal contact with the examiner. Generally, 80% of the claims at this stage are rejected.« Back to the Top Rejection, Request a Hearing
If the disability examiner rejects your claim after the reconsideration stage, the claimant can again appeal and request a hearing with an administrative law judge. At the hearing stage the claimant will actually takes his case before a live judge in hopes of receiving a different decision. Though this might seem intimidating, this is typically the first stage in which the claimant will be able to present his case and talk with the decision maker. The hearing is informal compared to most legal settings, and typically will include the claimant, the claimant's attorney or advocate, the administrative law judge, his secretary, and a vocational expert to testify as to the claimant's disability and limitations. The hearing will not have a jury or an audience, and Social Security will not be represented by an attorney or advocate. After reviewing the claim, the judge will determine if the claim is valid independent of the prior decisions of the disability examiners. Statistically, over half of the claims at this stage are successful.« Back to the Top Appeal to the Appeals Council
If you are unsuccessful at the hearing stage, you can begin the disability appeal process to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council is a single body located in Falls Church, Virginia, that will review the administrative judge's decision if you are unsuccessful. The Appeals Council only reviews the judge's decision and does not hear arguments from the claimant or claimant's attorney or advocate.Rejected by Appeals Council, Take Your Case to the Federal Courts
If the claimant is rejected by the Appeals Council, you can take your case to the federal courts. First you would file in a United States District Court, but you could potentially appeal all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. It’s important to remember that the United States District Court appeal is the first appeal that is handled outside the Social Security bureaucracy.
As detailed above, the Social Security Disability claims process is complicated, tedious, and time consuming. As with any difficult scenario, it is helpful to have experience on your side, and that's exactly what we offer. An experienced attorney or advocate can help you navigate Social Security's bureaucratic maze and save you time and heartache.
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How long does the claim decision take?
It can take as little as thirty days or as long as two years to go through the process to receive disability benefits. The Social Security disabilities programs do not have deadlines to meet to process your applications or appeals so it is virtually impossible to know how long it will take to receive a verdict. But on average it takes about three to four months for a decision to be made on an initial claim and another three to four months if you are initially denied and have to file for Reconsideration. If your case is denied at the Reconsideration level and you still want to pursue disability benefits, you will have to have a hearing scheduled before the Administrative law judge which usually takes about six months, depending on the back up of cases in your area.
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How to speed up your claim
Claims often spend great amounts of time in the Social Security system not because Social Security is slow, but because many claims are filed incomplete. You can shorten the amount of time your claim spends in the system by filing a complete claim. A Social Security lawyer can help you through the process and ensure your paperwork is complete and filed quickly.
When you do file there are a number of items Social Security will need in order to process you claim. Bringing the following items will help you file a complete and efficient claim:
- Social Security card of all persons applying for benefits
- Birth certificate of all persons applying for benefits
- Military discharge documents (if applicable)
- Dates and places of treatment
- Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of anyone who has treated you
- Names of current medication
- Medical records from all places of treatment
- Your tax information
- Work history for the past decade and a half
- Dates of prior marriages if your spouse is applying for benefits
And if you are applying for SSI, you also need:
- Paycheck stubs, bank records, insurance policies, car registration, burial fund records, and other information about your income and possessions
- Information about your current housing situation
If you do not have and cannot obtain some of this information, do not forgo filing a claim. We can help. Again, the sooner you file the better. Though Social Security may award retroactive benefits, retroactive benefits may only reach back to a year before your claim.
Click on the "free case evaluation" link. After you submit your form, a highly skilled and experienced attorney or advocate in your area will contact you to discuss your possible case.
If you can't find answers to your questions, complete the Free Case Evaluation and a Social Security Disability advocate will contact you to discuss your case.