To maximize your chances with a Social Security Disability appeal, it is beneficial to use appeal attorneys experienced and knowledgeable with the Social Security Disability benefits process.
Most claims for Social Security Disability or SSI disability benefits are initially denied. Unfortunately, this happens even when a claimant’s case is strong. For this reason, having legal representation on a disability claim is especially important and can even make the difference between winning and losing.
Basics of the Social Security Disability Appeal Process
Appeals for social security claims begin at the administration level, and may progress, if continually denied, to the final appeal which is a lawsuit filed in the federal court system.
When a Social Security Disability (SSD) claim is denied at any level of the appeals process, you must appeal to the next level. Otherwise, your claim will be kicked out of the system and you must restart from the beginning.
There are four levels of administrative Social Security Disability appeals:
- Initial Determination
- Request for Reconsideration
- Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ Hearing)
- Review by the Appeals Council
The initial application for Social Security Disability benefits begins with the administrative review process.
If your initial claim for disability is denied, you should follow with a Social Security Disability appeal for a Request for Reconsideration. You have in effect 65 days to file this appeal from the date you received the decision (the timeline is actually 60 days, which is extended 5 days because of the time it takes to receive a decision by mail).
If the Request for Reconsideration is denied, your next step is to request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This is known as the ALJ Hearing. Again, the 65-day timeline applies.
If you receive an ALJ denial, the final administrative appeal is to the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia. The time limit for this appeal in most cases is 65 days.
Appeal to Federal Court
If you still have not received a favorable decision during the administrative appeals process, the final Social Security Disability appeal is to file a lawsuit in the Federal District Court where you live. A federal court appeal is litigation, where only a licensed attorney can represent a claimant’s case.
How Can I Win My Case?
The key to winning a disability case is to keep appealing. This gives you the opening to provide additional evidence that most likely was missing in any earlier appeals.
It has been my experience that most claims are denied at the Initial Determination and the Reconsideration stages – the first two stages of the Social Security Disability appeal process.
The biggest mistake claimants make is not appealing to the third level of appeal, the ALJ hearing. The ALJ hearing is basically a mini trial. At this stage, you will have your first live hearing before a judge. You can present any evidence you have, including live testimony, and you may argue your case to the judge.
The complexity of the Social Security disability appeal process has made the task of pursuing claims through all the levels of appeal difficult. Aware of this problem, the Social Security Administration (SSA) allows you to be represented by attorneys on a contingent fee basis.
In other words, you can hire a lawyer to represent you with no money up front. Social Security regulations limit the payment that attorneys receive. The attorney is paid only if you win your case, and payment is a percentage of the past due benefits.
- As of 2010, the standard contingency fee to the attorney is 25% of all past due benefits up to a maximum of $6,000 if the case is won before appealing to the Appeals Council or to federal district court. (This maximum cap may be increased in 2011.)
- If a case must be appealed to the Appeals Council (which is the appeal prior to Federal Court), the $6,000 maximum cap is removed and the fee is 25% of all past due benefits.
Legal Representation for Your Social Security Disability Appeal
As an attorney that has practiced Social Security Disability law since 1992, I firmly believe that a claimant’s chances of winning their claim is greatly increased by having an experienced attorney represent them.
If your claim is denied, you need a strong strategy for getting your case approved. No matter what stage of the Social Security Disability appeal process you are in, the law firm of Marc Whitehead & Associates can help you.
We have expert knowledge regarding the laws and regulations that steer the Social Security and SSI disability approval process. We are experienced with all types of medical evidence needed to successfully support a claim – and we know the proper way to present this evidence from the initial application to appeals in the federal court system.
When a lawsuit is necessary to win a Social Security Disability appeal, we are thoroughly prepared to take the case to the final appeal in federal court. If you want justice, we are your strongest allies.