If You’ve Been Denied

Only about one-third of Social Security disability claims are approved at the initial level. Read the denial notice you receive from Social Security carefully -- it will tell you what you need to do. Generally, here are the next steps to take:

1) File an appeal right away!

2) Request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) 

  3) Request review by the Appeals Council  
  • If your claim is denied at the ALJ hearing stage, you have the right to appeal to Social Security's Appeals Council. The Appeals Council reviews hearing decisions, and has the power to "remand" or send cases back to judges when they make mistakes. It also reverses decisions in a small share of cases. It can take about a year to get a decision from the Appeals Council. 
  • If your claim is still denied at this level, you can file an appeal in Federal Court.
4) Get help!
  • You have the right to representation. Consider getting help from a Social Security disability attorney or representative -- the sooner the better.

How can I find an attorney to represent me on my Social Security disability claim?

NOSSCR offers a referral service with experienced Social Security disability attorneys around the country. You may call NOSSCR at 1-800-431-2804 during regular Eastern Standard Time business hours.

What is "Reconsideration"?

When a claim for Social Security disability benefits is denied at the initial level, the next step for a claimant in most states is to request "Reconsideration," or a re-evaluation of their case. The case is then reviewed a second time and a new decision is made. Unfortunately, in nearly 90% of the cases, the reconsideration decision is the same as the initial decision—a denial.

How long does it take for Social Security to make a Reconsideration decision?

In most case Social Security makes the reconsideration determination within four months.

How long does it take to get an ALJ hearing?

Processing time varies by hearing office. Nationally, the average processing time for an ALJ hearing in 2017 is 595 days.

How long does it take for Social Security to act upon a request for an Appeals Council review?

About a year, maybe longer.

What is the Social Security definition of "disability"?

While tens of millions of Americans live with disabilities, Social Security disability benefits are restricted to individuals with the most severe disabilities and illnesses. Individuals who are unable to do "substantial gainful activity" (defined as earning $1,170 per month in 2017) due to one or more severe mental and/or physical impairments may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security wants to make sure that everyone who receives disability benefits meets Social Security's definition of disability -- a process that typically requires a review of extensive medical and other evidence.  

My doctor and/or the VA says that I am disabled, so why is Social Security denying my Social Security disability claim?

Social Security has different, often stricter requirements for determining disability. While it will consider your doctor's opinion or the decisions made by other agencies, Social Security must make its own decision of whether you meet the disability standard for Social Security disability benefits.

Will it help if I ask my Congressional Representative to help me get Social Security disability benefits?

Many Social Security disability claimants become frustrated with claim delays and eventually ask their U.S. Representative or Senator to help. The local Congressional office typically will have staffers who are experienced with Social Security procedures and personnel. A “Congressional Inquiry,” as it is called, may help to get a stalled process moving again. However, a Congressional Inquiry will have no impact on how Social Security decides the outcome of the case. 

Adapted from a publication from Charles T. Hall, Esq., NOSSCR Past President. 

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