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The Social Security Disability & SSI Application Process


The first step in obtaining benefits is to file an application for benefits with SSA. If you have not already filed an application for benefits, our staff can assist you in setting up the initial application with SSA, and may schedule an interview with SSA to complete your application. After your initial application is complete, your local SSA District Office will send your file to a Claims Examiner, who will review your claim. The Claims Examiner may then send you questionnaires to complete and/or send you to an SSA doctor for an exam. Our staff can help you complete these forms. It generally takes SSA anywhere from six to nine months to make a decision on an initial application.

However, about 67% of all applicants are denied benefits initially. If SSA denies your application for benefits, you may then file an appeal, which our staff can assist you with as well. This appeal is called a "Request for Reconsideration." You have a 60-day window from the date on your denial notice to file your appeal. If you have already received a notice of denial, please let us know immediately so that we can assist you.

Once the Request for Reconsideration is filed, the claim progresses to the 'Reconsideration' stage. At the Reconsideration stage, another Claims Examiner will take a 'second look' at your case. Unfortunately, about 88% of claims are denied at the Reconsideration stage. The approval rate is so low because SSA is using the exact process that was used in the Initial Application stage to look at a similar combination of conditions and medcial records. If you are denied at the Reconsideration Stage, you will have 60 days to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. We can file this appeal for you as well. It will then take approximately 8 to 12 months to get a hearing date.

At the hearing, a judge will preside and testimony is taken under oath. However, the hearing is informal; strict rules of evidence do not apply. Medical records will be accepted as evidence. This means that records that were ignored by SSA when they denied you the first or second time can be considered in the judge's decision to approve or deny your claim.

The judge may ask you about your medical condition(s), abilities, training, and work experience, and about the limitations caused by your disability. You may present witnesses, and you have the right to cross-examine medical or vocational experts that may be present at the hearing.

As you can see, going through the process from the initial application to the hearing can take quite a long time. For cases that go all the way to a hearing, it can take anywhere from a year and half to two years from the time you first apply to the date of the hearing itself. However, if you proceed with your claim all the way through the hearing stage, your odds are generally better than they were in the first two stages; about 52% of claims are approved at the Hearing stage.

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