When you apply for disability benefits through Social Security Administration (SSA), your application may touch many different hands before a final decision is reached. Whether you apply in person, online, by mail, or via telephone, your application first goes to SSA representatives at your local field office.
With respect to your non-medical information such as age or work history, these field representatives will verify that you are eligible to apply for benefits. Then they send your file to Disability Determination Services where the medical portion of your claim is reviewed.
Disability Determination Services (DDS) are state agencies funded by the federal government that make the initial determination on whether you are entitled to disability benefits through SSA. Each state has at least one DDS office, but some states have more than one.
When DDS receives your file from SSA, a disability claims examiner will be assigned to your case. He or she will order all medical records from doctors, hospitals, and any other treatment providers that are listed on your application. If the information that he or she receives in medical records is insufficient or not provided, your claims examiner will then arrange a consultative examination (CE) to obtain more information. DDS prefers to get a CE from one of your treating sources, but an independent source can be used if necessary.
After the medical records have been assembled, an adjudicative team usually comprised of your disability examiner and a psychological or medical consultant and will make a determination on whether you qualify for disability benefits.
If DDS determines that you are disabled, the agency will compute your benefit amount and begin paying you benefits. If DDS finds that you are not disabled, your file will be sent back to your SSA field office in case you decide to appeal. If DDS believes that you are a candidate for vocational rehabilitation, it will refer your case to your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency.
You should know that most disability claims are denied at the initial stage with DDS, so you will want to appeal, since your chances of being awarded benefits increase greatly at later stages of the claims process. DDS also handles determinations at the reconsideration phase, and you are just as likely to get denied at this stage as well. Contact a trusted Social Security disability attorney and prepare to appeal again so that you can schedule a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).