There are five steps in the Social Security disability application process:
the initial application and up to four different appeals. The first appeal is a reconsideration , where another disability examiner completely reviews your application and any new evidence provided. If you are denied by the second examiner, there are a number of steps you can take.
It is strongly advised that you get a lawyer if you do not have one already. The next three appeals involve going in front of a judge, and having a lawyer who is knowledgeable of the Social Security Administration (SSA) will put you at an advantage.
If you are denied at the reconsideration, you can ask the SSA for a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). This request needs to be in writing within 60 days of your reconsideration notification by filling out the form online, printing and mailing them, or by writing a letter stating your desire for a hearing. The ALJ will not have had any part in the original decision or the reconsideration. Missing the hearing should only be done if there are extreme circumstances, because it’s in your best interests to attend the hearing and speak for your case.
You will be notified you of the date, time, and location of the hearing at least 20 days before the date. The SSA tries not to schedule a hearing that is more than 75 miles away from your home, but there are only 169 offices nationwide. The ALJ might offer to do a video conference, which is generally more convenient and scheduled faster. The SSA also might ask for more evidence and clarification of previously submitted evidence. Make sure to submit any new evidence you want considered in the decision as early as possible. At the hearing, the ALJ will question you and any witnesses you bring and give you or your representative the chance to question your witnesses. You will receive the ALJ’s decision in writing.
If you are denied by an ALJ, the next step is to ask for a review with the Appeals Council. They will review the claim and either make a decision themselves or return it to a different ALJ for further review. You must request in appeal in writing (form HA-520-U5) within 60 days and mail it to the Appeals Council headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. If have any new evidence, send it with your written request. You will be sent a copy of the Appeals Council’s decision on your case.
If you are denied at the Appeals Council, the last level of appeals is to file a civil lawsuit with the federal district court within 60 days. The SSA will send you information with your denial. Keep in mind, there is a fee the file a civil suit, in addition to the fees you have to pay your representative, if any. You must send the SSA copies of your complaint and court summons. The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will prepare the documents for court. This is your final decision on whether or not you will receive disability benefits.