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Understanding The Social Security Disability Appeals Process

In my previous post I explained the need for quick action if your application for Social Security Disability Benefits has been denied. When you appeal the decision, your case will move through a process that has three levels. Below I explain what will happen in each of the steps of the appeals process.


If you disagree with the Social Security Administration’s initial decision, you may ask for a hearing on the “disability” issues of your claim, such as whether or not you are disabled, when your disability began or whether or not it has ended. An administrative law judge who had no part in the first decision of your case will conduct the hearing.

It is usually conducted within 75 miles of your home. A notification of the time and place of the hearing will be sent to you and your attorney. You will be given an opportunity to explain your case in person and provide new information about your claim. Witnesses in the case will be questioned by the administrative law judge, your attorney and/or you.

The administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses at the hearing. You or your representative also may question the witnesses.

It is usually to your advantage to attend the hearing, but it is not required. If you don’t wish to attend, you must notify the Social Security Administration in writing that you don’t want to attend. Unless the judge believes your presence is necessary in order for a decision to be made, he or she will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information presented in the appeal.

The administrative law judge will take into consideration the evidence presented at the hearing and notify you by mail of their decision.

Appeals Council

If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council.

The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the administrative law judge’s hearing decision was correct. If the council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to the judge for further review. You will receive either a copy of the Appeals Council’s decision or order sending it back to an administrative law judge.

Federal Court

If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

An experienced disability lawyer can guide you through the appeals process and offer advice on the process that is involved in appealing a decision by the Social Security Administration. A claimant with an attorney or advocate will get a better understanding of the Social Security System and their own claim through the advice of an attorney.

Anyone who has filed a claim for Social Security disability benefits should seriously consider the advantages of having an attorney to represent them in the case.
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