The Social Security Administration handles millions of applications for disability benefits. The majority of these applications are submitted without a disability attorney, and in most cases, one is not necessary. However, there are disability cases that are a bit more complex, which could benefit from bringing on a disability attorney from the start. Also, if your initial application is denied, then hiring an attorney for your appeal is the best move.
The Appeals Process
Hiring a Social Security Disability attorney before beginning the appeals process is critical. Some Social Security Disability attorneys won’t even consider clients until their initial application gets denied because they have their hands full with appeals. The appeals process is very difficult to navigate on your own. However, a qualified lawyer knows all the right steps to take.
The different stages you might face in the appeals process are:
- Request for Reconsideration
- Hearing before the administrative law judge
- Appeals Council
- Federal Court
If you have any doubts about social security disability, click here to see frequently asked questions.
Request for Reconsideration
If your initial application gets denied, then you are going to need to submit a Request for Reconsideration using Form SSA-561. You must submit the request within 60 days of receiving written notice denying your initial application. Only 20% of denied Social Security Disability claims get overturned at this stage of the appeals process. Most appeals will proceed to a hearing.
Hearing Before the Administrative Law Judge
If your Request for Reconsideration gets denied, then you will move on to a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). You or your attorney will complete form HA-501 to request a hearing within 60 days of notice denying your Request for Reconsideration. You will have the option at this stage to request a hearing or simply receive a decision.
If you don’t want to appear at a hearing, then you can ask the ALJ to make a decision based on the evidence available in your file.
If you do want a hearing, then you or your attorney will appear at a scheduled hearing either in person, via video teleconference, or over the telephone. The court will determine the method of your hearing. You will receive information regarding the hearing date, type, and other pertinent information at least 75 days before your hearing date. Failure to appear at your hearing could result in the loss of your right to appeal.
In a disability case, the ALJ may request additional medical exams and tests. In this case, the court will schedule and pay for all requested medical procedures.
Unlike most court cases you have seen on television, there is no prosecution and defense in a hearing before an ALJ for disability benefits. Instead, the ALJ will bring in experts, and you and your attorney can request the presence of specific witnesses as well. Then the ALJ and your or your attorney will ask questions of the witnesses.
Any new evidence must be submitted to the ALJ at least five days before your hearing in order to receive consideration.
If the ALJ denies your claim, you can request a further appeal using form HA-520 to receive an Appeals Council review. The request for review must be submitted within 60 days of receiving notice of your ALJ hearing denial.
The Appeals Council will receive any new evidence and examine your case before deciding whether to accept your request for review. If your request is granted, then the Appeals Council will either decide your case or send it back to the ALJ for further review, which could mean another trial.
If the Appeals Council once again rejects your claim, or if they accept it but make a ruling that you do not fully agree with, then your next option is to file a civil action case with your local U.S. District Court. Your request must be made within 60 days of receiving the ruling from the Appeals Council.
The court could rule for the case to be sent all the way back down to the ALJ for another hearing or could make a decision themselves and either order the Social Security Administration to award benefits or dismiss your case.
If your case gets dismissed by the federal court, then you are back to square one. To make further attempts at receiving Social Security Disability, you will have to resubmit an initial application and start the process all over again.
The whole process can take well over a year, so hiring an attorney to help make sure the appeals process goes smoothly the first time around and that you don’t waste years of your life is definitely a good move to make.