When you decide to pursue Social Security Disability or SSI benefits you first need to fill out the initial application. The first step of the social security claims process is to acquire medical records and fill out an application in person, by phone, or online. Many applicants choose to take this step alone since it seems so straight forward, but unfortunately many initial applications are also denied. A social security disability lawyer can help develop your claim based upon your age, education, impairments, work history, and how you reached the point of being unable to work. The finished application is then submitted to the Social Security Administration (SSA) who sends it to Disability Determination Services (DDS) where your initial claim will be reviewed. The determination process is slow and normally takes 3 to 6 months to receive a determination letter from the SSA.
If your application is denied, you have just 60 days to file a request for reconsideration with the SSA. Hiring an attorney at this step is very important. He will be able to review your initial application and determine if any information needs to be reiterated differently or if any additional evidence needs to be presented. Your attorney will handle the request for you and help gather any additional evidence to support your request. The request will then be reviewed by DDS again. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of claims are approved at this stage. Fortunately, they will usually make their determination in a shorter time frame.
Administrative Law Judge Hearing:
If your claim is again denied, you have another 60 days to request a hearing. If you still do not have a social security disability lawyer at this point, we strongly recommend that you retain us for this hearing as your chances of winning at an administrative hearing are much higher with representation.
The hearing will be held before the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) (formerly Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR) where an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will use a 5-step analysis to decide whether or not you will be awarded benefits. A disability lawyer will prepare your case and prep you before the hearing where the ALJ will ask you a number of questions. Your lawyer will also be able to take your testimony so that you can highlight the strengths of your case, and he will be able to rebut any adverse vocational evidence. Your attorney will also keep the record updated with your most recent medical records, and he will obtain supporting written opinions from your healthcare providers.
If your claim is denied by the ALJ, you have 60 days to request that the Appeals Council review your case. The purpose of the Appeals Council is to determine whether an error was made by the ALJ. The Appeals Council has discretion to dismiss your case, overturn the decision and grant benefits, or remand it to back to the ALJ for another hearing. Only a small percentage of cases are overturned. Rather, it is much more likely that the case will be dismissed or remanded.
You have 60 days following a denial by the Appeals Council to file a petition against the SSA in U.S. District Court. Federal judges are supposed to review the case only for legal errors, but in reality many judges also rule on factual questions. Reasons for a reversal often include the SSA not giving sufficient weight to a treating doctor’s opinion, not considering pain and other symptoms, or not asking for assessments of abilities from treating doctors.
As you can see, the social security claims process can be long and highly technical. The best advice is to seek representation from a social security disability lawyer at the start of the process.