While it is true that many Social Security claims are denied on round one, it isn’t because the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes it a practice to turn down all initial applications. Many people that are entitled to benefits are initially turned down simply because they did not meet the stringent filing requirements. Nevertheless, many applicants must appeal to try to get their benefits.
An experienced disability attorney can streamline the process, whether that’s on the initial application or in the appeals stage. They know how to organize and present factual information in a compelling manner to position their clients in the most effective way possible.
If you need help with your claim, experienced Social Security disability lawyers at Harrell & Harrell, P.A., will gladly provide a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.
Contact us online to schedule a free consultation or call (904) 251-1111.
According to the Social Security Disability Act (SSDA), “disability” is the inability of a person to engage in substantial gainful activity because of impairment, which can be physical and/or mental. The impairment must be medically determined by a physician and expected to last at least 12 contiguous months.
This post is focusing on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), which is for people with medical disabilities who have worked long enough and paid enough in Social Security taxes to qualify.
Social Security Disability Process
People who believe they fit into the SSDI parameters can apply for benefits online or over the telephone. They can also apply at their local Social Security office but, during COVID, this is by appointment only. Part of the process is fairly straightforward but providing medical information can get more complex. It includes:
- names and contact information of doctors, hospitals, clinics, caseworkers, and more
- dates of service
- medication names and dosages
- medical records
- lab and test results
Information is placed into a grid to determine benefits. Factors include (but are not limited to): the age of the applicant, level of education, skills, work history, and residual functional capacity (RFC). By assessing a person’s RFC, they could be labeled sedentary, or capable of light, medium, or heavy work.
Some applicants hire a Social Security disability lawyer to help them streamline the initial process to get benefits more quickly. If that’s what you’d like to do, please contact us online for a free consultation.
SSDI Appeals Process
In 2018, just over one third (37.5%) of disability claims were approved after the initial application. People who are denied have 60 days to request an appeal. Statistics show that more than half of this group do not appeal, which means they might be leaving behind benefits that could be awarded after the appeals process. When looking at people who do appeal, more than half of them do receive benefits.
If you’ve been denied benefits, it’s important to contact a disability attorney who is experienced in the appeals process to expertly navigate you through what comes next.
When an applicant appeals, then the SSA reviews the whole application again, and they can go through four levels of appeals:
In this stage, someone who didn’t review the initial application would look at it, including any new information submitted. If the applicant gets denied, they can request a hearing by an administrative law judge.
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing
The ALJ would be someone who hadn’t participated in the applicant’s case in earlier stages. The applicant often must appear in person although, during COVID, video conferences are now common. More information may need to be provided and the applicant can be questioned. So can witnesses. If the applicant is denied at this stage, they can request a review by the Appeals Council.
Appeals Council Review
This council will look at all requests made but, if they agree with previous rulings, they may not take any other actions. If the council decides to review the case, they may send it back to the ALJ for another look or they may address the case themselves. If the applicant is denied, then they have the option to request a federal court review.
As you can see, the steps of the process can become increasingly more complex, which makes the need for an experienced Social Security disability attorney even greater. Fortunately, processes are often moving more quickly during COVID, because hearings are being held by telephone.
No one can be forced to have a telephone hearing, but the SSA shares how offices will “remain closed for the foreseeable future.” So, they add, “we encourage you to consider a telephone hearing if you cannot wait for an answer on your claim.”
When to Contact a Disability Attorney
We encourage people who are applying for benefits to contact an attorney at the very start. They do not need to be denied before seeking legal counsel, and people who get legal representation from the beginning are more likely to be approved. That’s because experienced attorneys know how to persuasively highlight a claim in the most favorable way, from describing the disability to listing its onset, and so forth.
In the reconsideration stage, an attorney can collect medical evidence and focus on improving the chances of an approval. At an ALJ hearing, the disability attorney can prepare the applicant for the process, create and present relevant documentation, ask questions and cross-examine witnesses—all to show how disability benefits are needed. If the claim goes to the Appeals Council, the attorney can present legal arguments; the same can occur, if needed, in the federal district court.
Experienced Social Security Disability Lawyers at Harrell & Harrell, P.A.
We’ll guide you through every step of the way, answering your questions and providing you with the legal representation that you need to receive benefits you’re entitled to. To ensure that we’ve thoughtfully analyzed every aspect of your case, we’ll have two attorneys review it. Then, we can proceed, using the best approach with confidence.