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

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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 stage.

You will be applying for benefits through the Social Security Administration because they manage both the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs. The Administration is staffed by an overworked crew, 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 stage 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 know what the agency is looking for in applications and how to present evidence of eligibility most persuasively so that staff are less likely to reject your claim. 

Step One – The Initial Application

The first step is to file an initial application with the Social Security Administration. This can be done online, by telephone, or in person at your local Social Security office. Atlthough the Administration website makes it seem like a quick and simple process. if you do not give serious consideration to your application, the Administration will not give it serious consideration either, and they will deny your claim for benefits. 

You need to do everything you can to demonstrate that you are unable to work due to an ongoing disability. This can include submitting medical records documenting your medical condition and 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 evidence of your work history or your income and resources.

After you file your initial application, it typically takes anywhere from six to twelve months to get a response from the Social Security Administration. 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.

What applicants need to understand is that a denial does not necessarily indicate that they are not qualified for benefits. A denial simply means that the Social Security Administration believes that you have not proven that you qualify for benefits. 

Step Two – Reconsideration

Applicants who are not approved need to file an appeal, which brings them to step two in the process, which is known as reconsideration. During this phase, Social Security staff members take another look at your file. They look at the evidence, they look at any updated evidence, and they make a new decision. You have the opportunity to submit additional evidence before reconsideration, and it is a good idea to do so. Your attorney can help you gather additional medical evidence to demonstrate why it is unrealistic for the agency to expect you to be able to support yourself through employment.

 The reconsideration phase usually takes anywhere from six to twelve months to complete, but with current staffing shortages, it could take even longer. Approximately 10% of people nationally who got approved received their approval letter after reconsideration. So, the bulk of individuals that succeed in obtaining disability benefits have had to move on to step three, which is to request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.

Step Three: The Hearing

After reconsideration, your next step is to ask to have your case decided through a live hearing. Unlike the previous two stages, in the third stage, your evidence will be reviewed by an administrative law judge rather than Social Security staff. 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 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.