You can apply for disability by making an appointment to go in and meet with someone in your local office, by a telephone interview or online at www.ssa.gov.
Your application for Social Security disability benefits will first be evaluated by a state government agency contracted by the Social Security Administration. Generally, a two-person team consisting of a doctor and a layperson will evaluate your claim. Only about 35 percent of applicants are awarded benefits at this stage, and of the 65 percent who are denied, and most will not appeal. This failure to appeal is the biggest mistake claimants make. It can take about four (4) months to get an initial decision.
If you appeal your initial denial, your claim will be reconsidered by another two-person team at the same state agency. They will consider the same factors and will probably come to the same conclusion as the first team. Only 15 percent of claimants are approved at this stage. During this phase, you may be sent to local physicians for evaluation of some of your medical claims. As this physician is only seeing you for a one time visit, it is not often that their report is a clear and convincing statement that you are disabled. This is the last stage in which your file is reviewed on the state level and if you appeal a denial it will move to the Social Security Administration. The entire reconsideration takes around three (3) months.
The third stage is the hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This is where you have the best chance of being awarded benefits, and it is also where a disability attorney can do the most good. A majority of applicants who appeal until they have a hearing are approved. It can take up to 15 months from the day of your appeal to get a hearing before a judge. The waiting period for an ALJ hearing varies by the office your case is assigned to. In some locations hearings may occur as quickly as nine (9) months or take as long as two (2) years.
Appeals Council and Federal Court
If the administrative law judge denies your claim, you can continue to appeal to the Appeals Council (as 45 percent of people do), and eventually to federal court, as a few people do, but your chances of being awarded benefits beyond this point are small. The Appeals Council or the federal court may, however, order another administrative law judge hearing. However, this is not an immediate review. Your case is returned to the trial docket of the judge that first denied your case to be entertained again. It is unfortunate, but true, that most judges will NOT reverse themselves and often give the Claimant another opportunity to present the case to just deny them again. The process of getting a remand from the appeals council and getting back to a hearing can be an 18 month wait. If the matter is in federal court, that could take 2 years. A review of the claim may prove that it is in your best interest to not appeal and just reapply now equipped with the information of how to make your case stronger due to the issues noted in your denial.
If you are not already represented by a disability attorney, please contact the Spann Wilder Law, L.L.C. for a free claim evaluation.