Applying for Social Security disability benefits is no guarantee that you’ll receive them, even if you believe you’re eligible and you complete your application carefully. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans who apply for these benefits are denied. The appeal process can be lengthy and confusing, but it will be worthwhile if your request is ultimately granted.
By the Numbers
The rates of approvals and denials vary every year, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) does offer some insight into the general breakdown.
- An average of 28 percent of applicants were approved for disability benefits.
- The highest acceptance rate per year was 37 percent, and the lowest was 26 percent.
- An average of nearly 53 percent of applicants were denied benefits.
- 3 percent of applicants were initially denied but later approved by reconsideration.
- 13 percent of applicants were initially denied but later approved by a hearing.
How the Appeal Process Works
Anyone who disagrees with their disability claim denial is entitled to appeal the decision. There are four levels of appeals.
By applying for reconsideration, you’re asking the SSA to take another look at your case. You don’t need to supply additional documentation, although you can if you think it would be helpful. SSA staff who weren’t part of your initial case review will review it now and decide whether the initial denial was appropriate. Most states use reconsideration, but some states skip this step and ask applicants to start their appeals by hearing.
If your claim is denied in reconsideration, you may request a hearing with an administrative law judge in your area. You can bring additional information and witnesses to your hearing and plead your case. The judge will question you and any witnesses and make a decision. You may hire an attorney to represent you.
3. Appeals Council
If you disagree with the judge’s ruling, you can request a review by the Social Security Appeals Council. The Appeals Council may make its own ruling on your case or send your case back to another administrative law judge for determination.
4. Federal Court
Some applicants who are denied by the Appeals Council opt to ask a federal court to overturn the ruling. The SSA will send you information about how to undertake this step, but they don’t submit anything on your behalf; it’s up to you and your attorney to file these charges.
How to Appeal
If you plan to appeal online or in person, gather any documents that can help you make your case, which includes any medical reports, test results and prescriptions you’ve received since you first applied. The website or a staff member at your local office will walk you through the appeal process.
If you want to appeal by mail, you will need to:
- Complete Form SSA-3441, “Disability Report – Appeal,” an 8-page form that asks for extensive information about your medical conditions and reasons for your appeal.
- Complete Form SSA-827, “Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration,” which gives the SSA permission to obtain your medical records.
- Complete EITHER Form SSA-561, “Request for Reconsideration” OR Form HA-501, “Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge.” Where you live determines which one you need to complete. Plus, the denial letter you received should tell you which one to use.
After you submit your appeal, you will be contacted by the SSA regarding what happens next. You may check the status of your appeal through your my Social Security account.
Remember to act quickly during the appeals process, since you only have 60 days after receiving the SSA’s decision in which to appeal it.
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