In previous blog posts, I have occasionally touched on some aspects of the process of appealing unfavorable decisions for SSA disability claims. In this blog post, I want to go into a bit more detail on each appeal available to claimants who have received denials.
After a claimant files their initial application for SSA disability benefits and the claim has been processed by the Disability Determination Service, if they are fortunate, they will be awarded their disability benefits. More likely than not, though, they will be denied.
Currently, the chance of receiving a favorable decision at the initial application stage in Alabama is a little less than 30 percent. To put it broadly, unless you are bedridden, hooked up to a machine or have a terminal condition, don’t be surprised when you get a denial letter in the mail from Social Security (SSA).
First Level of Appeal
In the past, the first level of appeal for Alabama applicants who were denied benefits was a Request for Reconsideration, which was phased out for the state of Alabama in 1999 for this specific appeals process. Frankly, it was deemed a waste of time by the SSA because the favorable result rate was minuscule.
The Request for Reconsideration is still used in Alabama for different appeals tracks, however, e.g. asking for a review if benefits are about to stopped and a few other items along those lines. Please note that it is still used by some states though to appeal the initial denial, so be careful and check to see if your state is one of these holdouts. This is very important if you live outside of Alabama.
Request For Hearing By Administrative Law Judge
Today in Alabama we skip this appeal and go straight to the Request For Hearing By Administrative Law Judge, which is exactly what it sounds like. Right now in Alabama it takes on average about 16 months to get a hearing date, which is in addition to the roughly two to four months it took to get the initial application denial decision. For what it’s worth, the approval rate for the state of Alabama is currently up to 47%.
Request For Review Of Hearing Decision
If you are one of the unfortunate claimants who do not receive a Fully Favorable Decision from the Administrative Law Judge at the hearing level, the next step in this particular appeals process is to file a Request For Review Of Hearing Decision/Order with the Appeals Council. Possible outcomes are a denial, remand to the Judge for another hearing or approval of the claim. The latter two are fairly rare events, the denial being the usual outcome. On top of that, the conventional wisdom is that it will take anywhere from 18-24 months to get a result.
So, if you have hung in there this far, the next level of appeal is to file a lawsuit against the SSA in the United States District Court for your federal district in Alabama. Besides the actual paperwork that goes along with the filing, typically a brief is submitted and even oral arguments may be requested. If the Judge agrees with your appeal argument, they will award you your disability benefits at long last. If not, it is possible to appeal your claim up the Federal Court chain to the Court of Appeals, but the chances of success diminish markedly at that point.
Unlike most other disability firms in Alabama, our lawyers can shepherd your case all the way through the appeals process outlined above, if applicable. We are one of the few full-service SSA disability firms in the state in that respect.
If you or your child have been denied disability benefits or suffer from a severe impairment that is expected to last more than twelve months and that prevents you from doing any of your past or other work or is causing developmental delay, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation appointment to discuss your situation.
James Ezzell is an attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Huntsville, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law. James prides himself in working and winning SSA Disability cases for people truly in need of his help. Read his full bio here.