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Social Security Disability: The Appeals Council Stage

When people ask how long it will take for a Social Security Disability application to be processed, they are usually given an answer of 90 to 120 days. Unfortunately, this time frame is often a matter of wishful thinking. If your application is approved in the initial stage of the application process, then yes, it may take just a few short months before you are approved for disability benefits. If, however, you are one of the 70 percent of Social Security applicants who are denied benefits at the initial stage of the application process, you will find that the actual approval times are much, much longer – especially if your Social Security Disability hearing does not return the results you had hoped for.

If you have been going through the long and tedious process of appealing the Social Security Administration's decision to deny your claim and you have been denied at the hearing stage of the appeal process, you still have a chance of having the decision overturned. The next stage of the appeal process is to go before the appeals council in hopes of having your Social Security Disability claim approved.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Council Process

Once you receive a decision as to the outcome of your Social Security Disability hearing, you have 60 days to ask for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council if your disability benefits are denied at the hearing level. The Social Security Appeals Council will not review your actual disability claim. The only thing this council does review is whether or not the decision rendered by the administrative law judge was made according to law.

It can be very hard to win an appeal at this stage of the Social Security Disability claim process. In most cases, the Appeals Council will simply send you a letter stating that the appeal has been denied and will uphold the decision made by the administrative law judge. However, there are some situations in which the Appeals Council will send the case back for another hearing or overturn the decision made by the administrative law judge and approve you for Social Security Disability benefits.

If the Appeals Council finds that the judge had made a technical error when reviewing your case or that the judge failed to consider valid medical evidence during your Social Security Disability hearing, the Appeals Council can demand a remand case. This means that your disability claim will be sent back for a second hearing in front of a different administrative law judge. The second hearing will be the same process as the first hearing you underwent, but the hearing will be conducted by a new administrative law judge.

The Appeals Council may also decide to overturn the decision made by the administrative law judge if they determine that the judge's decision was made completely in error. In this case the Appeals Council may not even require a remand hearing and may actually go forward and approve your Social Security Disability application.

At this stage of the appeal process you should already be working with a qualified Social Security Disability lawyer. Your attorney will be able to file the appeal with the Appeals Council for you. If you do not have an attorney, you can technically file the appeal with the Appeals Council on your own behalf but the process can be made simpler with the services of a qualified attorney.

The Social Security Disability Appeals Council Time Frame

The average time it takes for to process an appeal with the Social Security Disability Appeals Council can be anywhere from six months to two years. In 2009, the average appeal to the took 261 days to complete. This may be shorter or longer depending on the specifics of your appeal and the backlog of your local Social Security office.

It is important to understand that only two percent of Appeals Council decisions are made in favor of the applicant. If your appeal is denied at this stage of the Social Security Disability appeal process you will need to go on to file another appeal with the Federal District Court. If you do not yet have an attorney representing you in your disability claim, you should retain one for this portion of your Social Security Disability appeals process.