If your initial claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is denied, you have multiple opportunities to challenge that decision. And while pursuing an appeal can take months, even years, you do have some chance of succeeding. Among workers who were awarded SSDI benefits from 2010 through 2019, nearly a third were applicants who appealed after first being turned down, according to Social Security's most recent annual report on the program.
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There are four stages in the appeal process.
Medical eligibility for disability benefits is reviewed by state-level Social Security agencies called Disability Determination Services (DDS). If they reject your claim, your first recourse is to ask the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider. You can file for reconsideration online, or by filling out forms SSA-561, SSA-3441 and SSA-827 and sending them to your local Social Security office.
In a reconsideration, an examiner and medical team from your state DDS who were not involved in the initial review take a fresh look at your claim. You can provide additional evidence, such as records of more recent medical examinations or treatment, and point out evidence DDS may have missed the first time around. The examiners may request additional information themselves.
The average time for a reconsideration decision in 2021 was 147 days, according to SSA data. About 1 in 8 reconsideration requests yielded benefit approvals in 2019, the most recent year for which data on rulings is available.
2. Hearing before an administrative law judge
If DDS won't change its mind, you can request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ), who will review the evidence in your case and also listen to your testimony and that of expert witnesses. To request a hearing, use the online appeal system or complete and send in a form HA-501.
Be prepared for it to take a while to get a date: In November 2021, wait times in the country's 168 regional Social Security hearing offices ranged from 5 to 15 months.