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What should you do if your disability claim is denied?

If you filed an initial application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and were sent a denial letter, you are not alone. The majority of applications are denied at this phase by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

After receiving a denial letter for disability benefits, you have 60 days to file an appeal. Given the complexities of the appeals process, it is important you understand what is required at each step. In many cases, your claim can benefit from the advice and guidance of an experienced lawyer.

Generally there are the following four levels in the appeals process:

  1. Reconsideration – As stated previously, you have 60 days from the date you receive your denial letter to file a request for reconsideration. At this step, your case will be reviewed by an SSA examiner who was not involved in the initial decision. You also have the option to submit new evidence to strengthen your claim.
  2. Hearing – If your request for reconsideration was denied, you may request a disability hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). At the hearing, the ALJ will question you as well as any witness, including medical or vocational experts, before rendering a decision. Roughly two-thirds of cases are approved at this phase.
  3. Appeals Council review – If you receive another denial, the next step is to request that an Appeals Council reviews your case. The council will either: review your case and make a decision, send it back to an ALJ for reconsideration, or deny the request if it agrees with the ALJ’s decision.
  4. Federal Court – The final option for denied disability applicants is to file a lawsuit in federal district court. Cases at this level are rare, but may be necessary if the Appeals Council denies or refuses to review your claim.
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