The first and most important thing to know is that getting approved for Social Security disability benefits can take months, or even years, so it is vital to begin the process as soon as possible.

If you believe you are disabled, and your medical condition is such that you will be unable to work for more than year, you should apply for benefits immediately.

Stage 1: The Initial Application

The process starts by filing an Initial Application. To do this you will need to provide your conditions, your symptoms, your limitations, your medical history since you became sick, and your work history for the past 15 years. Gathering this information prior to starting the application process makes things go more smoothly. Remember, in order to be eligible for benefits you’ll need to prove that you cannot “sustain” a job – which means consistently working an 8 hour day, 5 days per week.

You can apply for benefits online, by phone, or by making an appointment with your local social security office, or by contacting and advocate like Citizens Disability. Once you have filled out your application, it will be reviewed by a state-run disability agency that works on behalf of the Social Security Administration. The state agency may consult medical and vocational experts to examine your medical records and work history. Typically within 3 to 6 months of your application, you will receive a written decision either awarding or denying your claim for benefits. Over the past decade, around 70 percent of initial disability applications were denied.

Stage 2: Reconsideration

Applicants have the right to appeal their case if the initial claim is denied. This is called a Request for Reconsideration.

If your Initial Application is denied, you can choose to appeal the decision within 60 days of the date of the written decision. If the agency does not receive your request for reconsideration within the 60 day deadline (plus a 5 day grace period for the request to arrive by mail), you will have to restart the application process from scratch. One easy way to avoid missing an appeal deadline is to consult a disability advocate early in the application process.

It is important to note that while a different disability examiner will review your application when you request reconsideration, this review is often little more than a formality, and most reconsideration requests are denied (in 2018, on average, less than 13% of Reconsideration decisions across the nation resulted in an approval). Note that in Alabama, Alaska, Michigan, and Missouri, the Reconsideration option will not be available until late 2019 or early 2020; before then, any initial applications that are denied would go straight to Hearing if the applicant appealed.

If the reconsideration is denied, applicants can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

Stage 3: Appeal & Hearing With an ALJ

Following a denial of your appeal at the reconsideration level, your next step is to request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ). Again, you’ll need to file your appeal within 60 days, plus a 5 day grace period. Wait times for hearings vary across different offices nationally, but claimants can generally expect to wait at least 12 to 16 months for a hearing.

Hearings before an ALJ can be intimidating without the help of an advocate. Having an experienced advocate can greatly improve your chances of having your claim approved. Advocates will collect and submit medical records on your behalf, write a comprehensive pre-hearing memorandum outlining your conditions and limitations, and make arguments as to why you should be approved for benefits based on the SSA’s rules and regulations.

If you’d like to see what a hearing actually looks like, we have a video of an example hearing you can watch.

After Stage 3: The Appeals Process

If the claim is denied after the ALJ hearing, you have the right to appeal to the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council. While each request for review is considered, only 20% of requests are granted.

If the Appeals Council chooses not to grant the request for a review, or if the results of the review are unfavorable, you can file a civil action in Federal District Court. You may also be able to submit a new application.

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Getting Qualified Help Improves Your SSDI Application Dramatically

It’s clear that the SSDI application process isn’t always easy; however, applicants don’t need to handle their case on their own. To get started, first take our short quiz to see if you might qualify for SSDI, or call us directly at 1-800-492-3260 for more information on the application process and eligibility requirements.

Consulting a disability advocate as early as possible in the application process will significantly improve your chances of success. An advocate will help ensure you don’t miss deadlines, and will help you gather critical evidence to give you the best chance to have your initial application approved.

About Citizens Disability, LLC:

Since 2010, Citizens Disability has been America’s premier Social Security Disability institution. Our services include helping people in applying for SSDI benefits, managing the process through Reconsideration, and representing people in person at their Hearing, and if necessary, bringing their case to the Appeals Council. Our mission is to give a voice to the millions of Americans who are disabled and unable to work, helping them receive the Social Security Disability benefits to which they may be entitled. Learn more about us and disability benefits like SSDI & SSI or give us a call (800)492-3260.

Citizens Disability is committed to helping keep people safe from fraud. We will never ask for personal details to start an SSDI application over Facebook or social media. We will only ask for certain details, in private messages, to confirm the identity of a client in a customer service situation. The only way to begin an SSDI application with us is on the phone, through a number found on our website, or one of our clearly-marked advertisements. Please keep your personal details safe, don't share them in a public forum, or with individuals who solicit your information.