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The application, review and appeals process for SSDI and SSI claims

Do not walk away from the process if you are denied at the initial application stage – more claims are approved on appeal than at application.

People sometimes shy away from filing legitimate applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with the Social Security Administration (SSA). They may have heard that the process is difficult and takes a long time or that the SSA will deny the claim anyway – that the federal bureaucracy is just too much to fight or the red tape too overwhelming.

Fortunately, while it can be a challenge, there are several opportunities to have your claim reviewed again if you face the denial of your application – and many people get approval on appeal. Involving an attorney can make all the difference in getting it right faster so far as providing the information that the SSA needs to see – that you are eligible from a wage-earning history standpoint and because you are disabled from working according to the federal definition of disability.

In addition, a lawyer can step in and represent you before the agency from the initial application or at any stage of the appeal of a denied claim. There are several opportunities to further develop your record with SSA by submitting new evidence. For example, you might decide after a denied application to make an appointment with a medical specialist for an assessment if you think the diagnosis and medical testing for one of your impairments could be more robust to better support your disability claim. You can still submit that medical evidence at a later stage.

Here are the steps of SSDI and SSI application and appeal:

  1. Initial application
  2. Request for reconsideration of the paper record
  3. Administrative law judge (ALJ) hearing
  4. Appeal to SSA Appeals Council
  5. Federal court appeal to determine if the SSA’s denial was supported by substantial evidence or if the agency made a legal error (potentially three court levels of appeal)

Your application could be approved at any of these steps or sent back to an earlier level for further development or reassessment.

It is true that the amount of paperwork and its detail as well as the number of hoops you must jump through to get to approval can be a significant effort – but experienced legal counsel does it all the time and knows what to do. Legal representation allows the attorney to do the hard work, communicate with the SSA on your behalf, develop the medical evidence and other important information, prepare for and represent you at an administrative hearing, prepare and file a court appeal, keep you informed of the progress and do anything else that comes up along the way, so you can take the time to handle your day-to-day life with a disabling medical condition.