If you file a claim for Social Security disability income after a serious injury, illness, or accident, you may end up surprised when you get a denial in the mail. Denials are actually quite common, and the Social Security Administration has an appeals process in place for that reason. Eventually, your appeal may end up in the hands of a Social Security Judge.
This guide will help you prepare for your appeal with the Social Security Judge so that you can increase your chances of approval.
If you receive a determination that you disagree with, you need to appeal the decision. The appeals process moves through four levels. These are:
- Appeals Council Review
- Federal Court
As you consider how the judge will hear your case, first, you must understand these steps. This knowledge will help you present a case that is strong and increase the chances of a ruling in your favor.
The first step in appealing your Social Security case Is filing a Request for Reconsideration. A claimant has 60 days from the date of the decision to file this request. Your 60 days start within 5 days of the date listed on your decision, so be sure to act quickly.
To file, fill out the Request for Reconsideration and file it at the Social Security District Office. You can deliver this request by hand or send it via mail, but use certified mail to ensure it arrives. At this point, the staff at the office will make a decision on the reconsideration if the case involves an overpayment. Otherwise, it moves to the hearing stage.
If the Request for Reconsideration gets denied, claimants have the option to ask for a hearing. This step is the first time that the case goes in front of a judge. Specifically, the case moves to an Administrative Law Judge.
Like the Request for Reconsideration, the Request for Hearing gets submitted to the Social Security District Office. Again, this form should be hand-delivered or sent via certified mail. The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will take a look at the case and assign it to an Administrative Law Judge for a hearing.
If the judge at the hearing does not rule in your favor, you are able to request an Appeals Council Review. To request this review, you must file the request with the Appeals Council office, which you can do through your local Social Security district office or by mailing it directly to the Appeals Council office in Virginia.
The Appeals Council can ask for an oral argument, but this step is not a hearing. At this point, a judge will not see the case. The Council can reverse, affirm, or modify the decision of the judge. The Appeals Council can also send the case back to the judge to revisit.
Getting the Appeals Council to take your case is rare. The law does not require them to take all the cases that come their way. They will only review those cases they believe had an error in the hearing decision.
If you still have a concern about your appeal, you can take it to a federal district court by filing an action. Now the case is no longer in the Social Security system but becomes part of the federal courts. This step rarely occurs, but it is possible.
Many people filing for Social Security benefits don’t know that denials of the initial claim are common. If you receive a denial and believe you have a disability that the program covers, you should file an appeal. Before you do, take the time to gather evidence to strengthen your case in court.
For cases that go to a judge, disability claimants face a tough road. In a recent survey, only 47% of cases Social Security judges heard had winning verdicts for disability claimants. If your case is going to a judge through the appeals process, careful preparation and the help of a disability lawyer is important.
To prepare, first, you must show that you are unable to work because of your disability, as being unable to work is the definition of a disability according to the Social Security Administration. If your physical or mental impairments have prevented you from working for 12 months or could potentially be fatal, you qualify to receive benefits.
To strengthen your case, look at the reason the administration denied your case. Then, gather supporting documents that address those reasons. These documents might include documentation from your doctor, witness statements, and financial documentation.
At this point, consulting with an attorney is a good choice. The Nolo survey found that those who had a disability attorney on their side had a three times higher success rate with the judge than those who did not.
A Social Security attorney can help you create a strong case for the judge to improve the chance of the judge’s approval. With the help of an attorney, you can gather the necessary medical documentation that will help the judge rule favorably on your behalf. An attorney will also help you gather witnesses, who the judge may question. The way the evidence gets presented will impact how the Social Security judge views the claim, so setting it up well is important.
If your Social Security case goes to a judge, the judge will likely ask for a mescal professional to serve as a witness. You can also bring your own witnesses to attest to the level of disability you suffer. These witnesses should be people who can attest to your need for disability benefits and the impact of your disability on your employment.
Discuss your choice of witnesses with your disability lawyer. Choose witnesses that are likely to impress the judge based on their understanding of medical needs or employment.
Before going to your hearing, you need to prepare. Doing so will help you present your case in a strong way. Here’s how you can do so:
- Review the details of your claim, case file, and denial letter.
- Prepare notes that will help you discuss your claim with the Social Security Judge.
- Have your medical records on hand to present as evidence.
- Gather new medical records evidence.
- Have expert testimonies, from doctors if possible.
As you consider how the Social Security judge will view your case, consider how you appear in court when you attend the hearing. In addition to hiring a lawyer, make sure you do the following:
- Arrive at the hearing location on time
- Appear appropriate for court with clean, presentable clothing
- Be honest about your disability and its effects, but do not minimize them
- Do not interrupt the judge
- Be respectful throughout the hearing
- Listen to the advice of your attorney
If your Social Security disability claim gets denied, you may face some stress. Yet appeals are possible with the right preparation. By preparing carefully, you can increase the chances that the Social Security judge will look favorably on your case.
If you have a Social Security claim denied, reach out to Gravis Law to get expert help with the appeals process.