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I Was Denied Disability. What Next?

I Was Denied Disability. What Next?

Although it probably comes as little solace, most applicants for Social Security disability are denied initially. If your application is rejected, don’t give up like most people do. Instead, you should contact an experienced Social Security disability attorney immediately if you do not already have one and start work on your appeal.

Please note: there are advantages to hiring an attorney even before you file your application. He or she can review your application in full before submission to ensure you have not forgotten to include anything important and that you have completed all paperwork thoroughly. That will eliminate the potential for unnecessary delays in processing your application, as SSA can make you wait many extra months to review your claim if it were incomplete when you first submitted it. Other common reasons for initial denial include insufficient medical evidence of your disability, failure to grant SSA access to your medical records, failure to respond to SSA’s requests for more information, and not following your doctor’s prescribed course of treatment.

The first step in the appeals process is reconsideration. Once you have received your initial denial letter, you have sixty days to file for reconsideration. At this stage, a staff member at Social Security Administration (SSA) who was not involved in the initial decision will review your original application and any new information you have submitted since you filed the first time.

If you are again denied at the reconsideration stage, as many people are, you have sixty days from the date of that denial letter to file for an appeal. This appeal will be a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ) who will ask you questions about your conditions and your inability to work. Be prepared to wait for your hearing to be scheduled, however, because the national backlog ranges from months to years.

Although you do not need an attorney to represent you at your hearing, your chances of ultimately getting approved for disability benefits improve substantially if you do. Your attorney will be extremely familiar with the appeals process and will likely know many of the ALJs before whom you will be assigned to testify. He or she can go over questions that the ALJ will probably ask you and prepare you in general for the entire proceeding to calm your nerves and put you more at ease with the process.

Your attorney will also ensure that any witnesses who are called to testify as to your hypothetical ability to work are properly cross-examined. Even though disability hearings are more casual court proceedings, they can still be intimidating. And you want to be as thorough and prepared as possible, since your hearing is your best chance at being approved for benefits. If you are still denied after your hearing, you can appeal to the federal Appeals Court.

Remember that attorneys only get paid if they win your case, and they will collect their fee directly from your backpay award. Therefore, if you believe you have a strong case, and the only thing holding you back from hiring an experienced attorney is the cost, you have nothing to lose by contacting one for a free, initial consultation.