Applying for Social Security Disability – You May Need to Go Through Three Stages to Get Approved for Benefits

For most people, applying for disability benefits requires a three-step process. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help you make the most of your opportunities, and this could allow you to achieve success after only two steps, or even at the first step.

In order to file an application for disability benefits, you will be applying through the Social Security Administration (SSA) because they manage both the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. The Administration is currently understaffed, so it is taking them longer to process cases than in the past. If you can properly document your eligibility so that you succeed at the first or second step in the process, you can receive your benefits much sooner.

This is where the assistance of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney can prove particularly valuable. We understand the complex rules for disability claims and know how to present evidence of eligibility persuasively so that your claim is less likely to be denied.

Step One – The Initial Application

The first step is to file an initial application with the SSA. This can be done online, by telephone, or in person at your local Social Security office. Although the SSA’s website makes it seem like a quick and simple process, you must give serious consideration to the completion of your application to prevent an unnecessary denial of your claim. 

When you file an application, you will need to demonstrate that you are unable to work due to an ongoing disability. This can include informing SSA about medical treatment which documents your medical condition, as well as any other evidence to show how your condition prevents you from working at gainful employment. Depending on the program you are applying for, you will also need to provide information about your income and resources.

After you file your initial application, it currently takes anywhere from six months to over twelve months to get a decision from the SSA. From a national perspective, in terms of numbers, approximately 25 to 33% of people who receive disability benefits are approved at the initial level. That means that the majority of people who apply receive a letter stating that they have been denied for benefits.

It is important to remember that a denial does not necessarily indicate that they are not qualified for benefits.

Step Two – Reconsideration

Applicants who are denied need to file an appeal, which brings them to step two in the process, which is known as reconsideration. During this step, Social Security staff members take another look at your file. They look at the evidence, including any updated evidence, and they make a new decision. You have the opportunity to update the SSA on any additional medical treatment that you have received during reconsideration, and it is a good idea to do so.

The reconsideration step usually takes anywhere from six to twelve months to complete, but with current staffing shortages, it could take even longer. Approximately 7-10% of people nationally are approved for benefits at the reconsideration step. This means that the bulk of individuals that get approved for disability benefits have to move on to step three, which is to request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

Step Three – The Hearing

After a reconsideration denial, your next step is to request a hearing. Unlike the previous two steps, the third step of the process requires that your case be reviewed and decided by an administrative law judge. The hearing can either be held in person, by video or by telephone.

During this hearing, you have the opportunity to tell your story, giving personal details about how the disability affects your life and your ability to work. The hearing also gives both the judge and your attorney (if you have one) the opportunity to ask questions and clarify issues in the medical records or any other evidence. As the statistics show, the hearing offers the best opportunity to demonstrate eligibility and receive approval for benefits.

However, the wait to see a judge can be very long and it ranges depending on where you live. In Georgia, for example, the wait for a hearing may be anywhere from four to twelve months. That means if you have to go through all three steps of the process, you could be looking anywhere from a year and a half to sometimes even three years before you get approved for benefits.

Find Out How Burgess & Christensen Can Help with Your Social Security Disability Application 

Social Security disability benefits provide a valuable lifeline when you are unable to work, but the process of proving that you qualify can be confusing and disheartening. The experienced team at Burgess & Christensen can guide you through to help reach the best results without unnecessary delays, and we don’t charge a fee until you get approved for benefits and are eligible to receive past due benefits. To talk about the ways we can help, schedule a free appointment today.