More than half of those initially applying for social security disability claims are denied at least once, and many go through several stages of reconsideration and appeals.
The following is a brief explanation of the disability process and the timeline you would follow if your case was taken all the way to the U.S. District Court.
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Application / Initial Claim
You can fill out and send in your application for disability benefits as soon as you stop working or your monthly income drops under $1,000. You can apply online, by phone, by mail, in person at your local Social Security Administration office. Once your application is received, the SSA will usually review it and make a decision within 4 to 6 months.
Approval or First Denial
Changes in the past few years have made the review process faster and more accurate. If your condition is listed on the SSA website and is easily verified with evidence, early approval is possible through QDD, or Quick Disability Determination. The QDD unit will usually send favorable decisions within 20 days of receiving your application if you have a high chance of being granted benefits. Also, a Federal Reviewing Official ensures that applications are reviewed quickly, fairly, and accurately.
If you are denied the first time, you may request a reconsideration within 60 days of receiving the denial letter. Usually the SSA will take 4 to 6 months to review and reevaluate your claim and make another decision.
With the help of an experienced disability attorney, many people are approved for disability benefits after reconsideration. If you are denied a second time, you have 60 days to request a hearing. You must explain in your request why you disagree with the decision of the Federal Reviewing Official. You will be notified 75 days before your hearing if it is granted. Any evidence to support your claim must be submitted at least 5 business days before the hearing. After the hearing, the judge will usually take between 2 and 3 months to make a decision. If you are approved, you will receive your first disability check 8 to 12 weeks after the decision.
If you are denied for the third time, you have 60 days to request a review by the Appeals Counsel. If you miss this deadline, you will have to file a new claim from the beginning. The Appeals Counsel is gradually being replaced by the Decision Review Board, which serves the same purpose. The Counsel or Board will either agree with the decision made at the hearing (in which case they will choose not to review your claim and will send a letter explaining why it was denied), review your claim and send a copy of the decision if it was favorable, or send an order for you to appear in a lower court.
U.S. District Court
If you are denied again by the Appeals Counsel or they refuse to review your claim, you have another 60 days to file a lawsuit with the federal district court. They will choose to award benefits, deny benefits, or they may send you to an additional hearing in a lower court.
*A Note About Attorneys and Fees
The process of applying for disability benefits is a long and tedious road for many people who are continually denied. An experienced disability attorney can make or break your case when it comes to social security benefits. Your attorney only collects money if you win your case. The fee would be equal to 25% of the back-pay received by you, which cannot be more than $6,000. Generally it is best to have an experienced and compassionate attorney on your side right away, who can prepare you for all stages of the disability and appeal process and greatly improve your chance of receiving the benefits you deserve.