The stages in the Social Security disability process are the initial application, the request for reconsideration, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing, the Appeals Council, and the Federal District Court.
The Initial Application
The initial application involves a detailed questionnaire about your medical history, work history, and other details of your life and current situation. It also requires you to submit supporting documentation to back up the information you provide in the application.
In fact, you may be required to include the following documents with your initial Social Security disability application:
- Your medical records: This may consist of physicians’ statements, lab test results, and medication schedules.
- A list of doctors from whom you have sought treatment for your condition.
- Your work history: This includes a list of jobs dating back as far as 15 years from the date of application.
- Your educational history, as well as any specific skills you possess or job training you have received.
An attorney can help you gather and organize the supporting documents you need to send along with your initial application. As a general rule of thumb, it is better to err on the side of too much documentation rather than too little. Because Social Security disability is an all-or-nothing proposition — there is no partial disability or partial benefits — a minor omission in your file could mean the difference between approval and denial.
Determination of Whether You Qualify for Benefits
Once you have submitted your application and related evidence, the SSA will determine whether you qualify for benefits. It will conduct both a medical screening and vocational screening.
The Request for Reconsideration
If your initial application gets approved, then you do not need to go any further in the process; you will begin receiving benefits. But if it gets denied, you can move to the next stage, the request for reconsideration.
A request for reconsideration is just like it sounds: you’re asking Social Security to reconsider denying your application. To file this request, you can submit a form along with any additional supporting documentation that you did not include with your initial application.
If, for instance, you have a new lab report that shows a worsening of your condition or your doctor has prepared a new statement that you feel is more compelling than the one you submitted initially, you can attach these documents to your request for reconsideration.
The Administrative Law Judge Hearing
Social Security upholds its decision in the vast majority of cases at the reconsideration stages. If this happens to you, you can then proceed to the next stage of the application process, arguing your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). An ALJ is a judge appointed by Social Security to adjudicate disability cases. You have the opportunity to make your case face-to-face in front of an ALJ.
A higher percentage of disability applications receive approval at ALJ hearings than at any other stage in the process. But it is not easy to get approval. Your case needs to be compelling and backed by substantial evidence. But the benefit of an ALJ hearing is that you can clear up any ambiguities or explain any shortfalls or points of contention in your claim.
You Can Bring a Lawyer to Your ALJ Hearing
Another benefit of an ALJ hearing is that you are allowed to have a lawyer present. It is wise to consider hiring a disability attorney to represent you at your hearing. They know what to expect and can help you prepare. They can also help steer the proceedings in a direction most likely to lead to a favorable outcome.
The Appeals Council
If the ALJ upholds the denial, you can then take it to the Appeals Council. This council’s job is to review claims denied by judges.
The Federal District Court
The last step in the process, if the Appeals Council upholds the denial, is to take it to federal court. However, there are prohibitive costs involved in this step, which is why few applicants take it.
For Help With a Social Security Disability Claim, Call the Disability Advantage Group, at 865-566-0800
The Social Security disability attorneys at the Disability Advantage Group can help you at any stage of the Social Security disability application process. We have a strong record of getting our clients approved for benefits, and we never collect a fee until you start getting paid. For a free case evaluation, call us at 865-566-0800.