Your first step toward a successful disability claim is to perfect the contents of your initial application. This is where you will provide details about your disability and how it relates to your daily life. You will need to include details about all of your medical treatment, in addition to your work history. It’s best to submit any supporting documents that are available.
Your application is given to the Disability Determination Services (DDS). They will look further into your records and decide on your residual functional capacity (RFC). This is a professional opinion on your capabilities, and your approval/denial is widely based on it.
If your initial application is denied (which is often the case), the process to appeal that decision can begin. You only have 60 days to appeal, and if it’s not done on time, you must start the process all over from the beginning. To appeal, you can start with a request for reconsideration. DDS receives your claim again and reviews it once more, this time by a different examiner. If the claim is denied again, don’t give up! This happens almost 80% of the time.
Several states have decided to get rid of the reconsideration level and now go straight to the hearing level.
This stage has the longest wait time, however, often has a better result. Be patient, because this level can sometimes take even more than a year or two to get past. New evidence, if there is any, can be submitted to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that reviews your claim. Medical evidence is especially valuable. If you have an attorney, he or she may join and assist you. The hearing is private, but is recorded in case you need to refer back to it later. The judge will provide a written decision after the hearing.
If the judge has provided you with an unfavorable decision (a denial), the next step is to turn to the Appeals Council. This must be done within 60 days of your most recent denial. Otherwise, your appeal might be completely dismissed. The Appeals Council reviews your claim and will either reverse or agree with the judge’s decision. They may decide to return your case to the judge to have it reconsidered by him/her. Like the hearing, this stage in the process could require a wait anywhere between 6 months to 3 years.
If the Appeals Court confirmed the ALJ’s decision, you may decide to take your claim to Federal Court. Like other appeals, you have 60 days to do so. Simply put, a lawsuit is filed against the Social Security Administration (SSA) for mishandling your claim.
Once you have decided to take your case to Federal Court, the official complaint and summons must be mailed via registered or certified mail to the SSA’s Office of General Counsel that oversees your area. In court, both you and the SSA will have lawyers present. There is a fee for filing this civil action, and it is not a good idea to make this decision without consulting the advice of an attorney first.
This is the most serious stage in the appeals process, and most claims do not require such actions.