If you have enough work credits and a serious injury or illness that makes working difficult or impossible, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. You should brace yourself for an initial denial, though, as the Social Security Administration has a history of denying as many as 67% of first-time applications.
An initial denial may only be a bump in the road to receiving the benefits you deserve. If you receive a denial letter, you may be able to appeal your case through four hierarchical levels.
1. Request for reconsideration
The first step in appealing an SSDI denial is often a simple request for reconsideration. With this step, a different adjudicator within the SSA considers your application and issues a decision.
2. Hearing before an administrative law judge
If your request for reconsideration does not end favorably, you may seek a hearing before an administrative law judge. Before the hearing, you may typically submit additional evidence. You may also have to testify.
3. Review by the Social Security Appeals Council
After exhausting your reconsideration and ALJ remedies, you may take your appeal to the Appeals Council within the SSA. The appeals council has the authority either to approve benefits or to return your case to an adjudicating officer for additional review.
4. Appeal to federal court
If the other levels of appeal do not work out in your favor, you may ask a U.S. district judge to hear your appeal. This judge is likely to consider whether an SSA officer, the ALJ or the Appeals Council made a legal error when denying your benefits.
Most SSDI denials do not reach federal court. Still, knowing you have four levels of appeal may put your mind at ease after receiving an initial or even a subsequent denial.