Most initial Social Security Disability claims are denied. If you are facing an initial denial, you should not let that stop you or discourage you from seeking Social Security Disability benefits. You will receive instructions regarding the appeals process along with your denial letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
For most people, the first thing you should do when you receive your letter of denial for Social Security Disability benefits is to immediately contact a disability advocate or a lawyer who specializes in Social Security Disability cases. You have a right to representation at all stages of the claims and appeals process, and in most cases your representation won’t cost you anything unless you win your Social Security Disability benefits.
You can choose to represent yourself throughout the appeals process, of course. However, most people are simply not as well equipped to maneuver through the red tape of a Social Security Disability claim as a disability attorney is. Disability attorneys and advocates know how to best present the evidence in your case to optimize your chances of ultimately winning your claim and receiving Social Security Disability benefits.
The first step in appealing the SSA’s decision to deny your Social Security Disability benefits is to file a request for reconsideration. This is basically simply turning in the same paperwork again for another SSA representative to consider. You may, of course, add any new or different information which you or your representative believes may have a bearing on your case and whether or not you'll qualify for SSDI.
Having an experienced lawyer often makes all the difference at this stage. Sometimes, simply the way your representative will re-organize the facts regarding your disability can help get your claim pushed through and approved.
More often, however, your claim will need to go to the next step, the disability hearing. During the hearing, an administrative law judge will listen to your explanation of why you should receive Social Security Disability benefits. Often, the hearing will also include a medical expert, who will ask questions and advise the administrative law judge regarding medical matters and a vocational expert, who will advise the law judge regarding what types of work you may still be qualified to perform.
You are also allowed to bring witnesses. You should seek the advice of your representative regarding which witnesses to bring, or whether you should bring any at all. Every case is different, and in some cases, having witnesses testify regarding your disability will be helpful. You may also present any new evidence or changes in your condition which may have occurred between the time of your initial application and now.
If the denial of your claim is upheld at the hearing, the decision will be sent to an Appeals Council. The Appeals Council consists of administrative law judges who were not previously involved in your case. They will not consider any new evidence, but will make sure that the administrative law judge from your hearing followed the correct procedures and laws in rendering his decision. After they have reviewed your case, they can concur with the hearing’s findings, can overturn them (and award you Social Security Disability benefits) or they can send the case back to the administrative law judge for reconsideration with observations regarding any mistakes he or she may have made on your case.
If you still have not been awarded your Social Security Disability benefits after the Appeals Council has considered your case, your remaining recourse involves suing the SSA in Federal Court. You should, of course, seek the advice of a Social Security attorney before proceeding with any such federal court case.