The Social Security disability process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. Here we will walk through the process step by step and explain the Social Security disability process.
The Social Security disability process explained
The Social Security disability process starts by applying for Social Security disability. At each stage of the process, you have a right to appeal the decision if you disagree. There are a series of appeals within the Social Security Administration followed by appeals to the Federal District Court and beyond. We have written a number of articles on each stage of the process and have compiled them within our frequently asked questions, but we’ll also walk through each stage of the Social Security disability process below.
The Application Phase
When applying for disability, the process can take anywhere from four to six months. If you are applying for SSD with our office, we would schedule an appointment to speak with you to gather all necessary information. We would complete the disability application with you and submit it to the Social Security Administration.
After you file your SSD application, the file is sent to Disability Determination Services, the branch of government tasked with deciding whether you are disabled.
Many cases are denied at this level of the Social Security disability process. In fact, only about 35% of initial applications for benefits are approved. When a claim for disability benefits is denied, the first step of fighting the decision is to file a request for reconsideration.
For more information about the application phase, check out our article on applying for SSD.
The Reconsideration Phase
When a claim for disability benefits is denied, the next step of the Social Security disability process is to file a request for reconsideration. The reconsideration process for disability claims involves a thorough review of your case and application. You have 60 days from the date you receive the denial of your SSDI application or SSI application to file a request for reconsideration.
The reconsideration process for disability claims takes about four to six months from start to finish. After you file your request for reconsideration, the file is sent to a different person at Disability Determination Services. From that point, DDS reviews your file in the same way that it did during the initial application.
Many cases are denied at this level. In fact, only about 15% of cases are successful at this stage of the Social Security disability process. If you are denied at this stage, we can appeal the decision by requesting a hearing with an administrative law judge.
For more information about the reconsideration phase, check out our article on filing a request for reconsideration.
The Hearing Phase
After you receive a denial on your Request for Reconsideration, you have 60 days to file a Request for Hearing with an Administrative Law Judge. Once you file a Request for Hearing, your file is transferred to the Office of Hearing Operations which will schedule and conduct an informal hearing.
Social Security disability hearings are informal, but that is not to say that what you say isn’t important. The Social Security disability hearing is also normally the last point in the Social Security disability process in which you can add evidence.
The amount of time it takes to schedule your hearing varies from hearing office to hearing office. Generally, this stage of the Social Security disability process takes somewhere between 6 and 18 months.
About 50% of cases are denied at this level although each individual ALJ is different. The Social Security Administration does track ALJ statistics here. You do have the right to appeal the decision to the Appeals Council.
For more information about the hearing phase, check out our article on the Social Security hearing process.
The Appeals Council Phase
If your claim is denied after a hearing with an ALJ, you have 60 days after receiving the unfavorable decision to file a Request for Review with the Appeals Council.
Rarely, if ever, do you need to have a hearing with the Appeals Council. Instead, the Appeals Council simply reviews the record from your hearing. This would include your medical records as well as the recording from the hearing. If you have an Appeals Council lawyer, he or she would submit a “brief” which is a several page argument about how the judge in your case made an error of law or did not base the decision on substantial evidence.
Appeals Council wait times vary greatly. We have seen the Appeals Council make decisions in as little as one month. We have also seen the Appeals Council take as long as 20 months to issue a decision.
Less than 15% of cases are successful at this stage in the Social Security disability process. You do have the right to appeal the decision to the Federal District Court.
For more information about the Appeals Council phase, check out our article on the Appeals Council process.
The Federal District Court Phase
If the Social Security Appeals Council denied your Request for Review, the next step in the Social Security disability process is filing a civil action in Federal District Court. A Social Security Federal District Court lawyer is essential at this stage. The process of appealing a disability case to the Federal District Court is incredibly difficult and complex. Most lawyers do not even file appeals in the Federal District Court. It’s extremely important that if you proceed to this level of appeal, you do so with the help of an experienced Social Security Federal District Court lawyer.
How long the Federal District Court takes in a Social Security appeal can vary widely. In most cases, from the time a Complaint is filed until the time briefs are submitted is about six months. Generally, that would be the minimum length of time for a District Court case. Once the case is submitted for decision, it really depends on the complexity of the case and the judge’s workload. Sometimes, the decision comes very quickly. Other times, we must wait well over a year for a decision.
Thus, your odds of success are directly dependent upon the nature of your appeal, the law of the District in which you filed, and the judge to which you are assigned. Your Social Security Federal District Court lawyer would be able to give you an idea if that lawyer practices in Federal District Court regularly.
For more information about the Federal District Court phase, check out our article on the Federal District Court process.
Beyond the Federal District Court
If you disagree with the Federal District Court’s decision, your next step is to file an appeal to the Court of Appeals. This is a very complicated process. Very few cases are appealed to this level for a number of reasons. The Court of Appeals does not generally overturn District Court decisions unless there is a major error. A Social Security Federal District Court lawyer will only recommend an appeal to the Court of Appeals in the strongest of cases.
Visualizing the Social Security disability process
Contact ARM Lawyers today
Patrick J. Best of ARM Lawyers has helped thousands of individuals get their disability benefits. We have experience navigating the Social Security disability process. If you have questions, we have answers.
To get started on your case today, call our offices now. The best part is that we can start the whole process over the phone or by video conference so you don’t even need to come into the office!