The Social Security Disability Claims Process

If you are considering applying for Social Security Disability benefits, you may have questions about the claims process and how long it takes to receive benefits. You may have put off applying because you have heard the process can take a long time. The fact is that the amount of time to get a decision varies based on the severity of the applicant’s disability and the number of appeals required. It always takes longer than you would want.

At Hardison & Cochran, our attorneys understand that the disability claims process can complicated and confusing. We can help you navigate the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) process for pursuing disability benefits. We represent disabled people throughout North Carolina in disability benefits claims and appeals. We can review your file, help you to understand why you were denied benefits and what we can do to help you. If you have been denied benefits, you have only a limited amount of time to appeal. The sooner you call us, the sooner we can get to work on your appeal.

Here is how the SSD claims process works.

Step 1: The first step is to submit a disability application if you are diagnosed with a disability and no longer able to work. There are several ways to apply.

You can file an application online.

You also can call 1-800-772-1213 and schedule an appointment to meet with a Social Security representative at a Social Security field office to fill out an application or submit an application by phone. The interview will take at least an hour and you will need to bring a number of documents to the interview.

In addition to an application, you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Adult Disability Report—This report contains information on your medical condition and how it has limited your ability to work.
  • Disclosure Authorization Form—This is a form that gives permission to your doctor and other health care professionals who have treated you to provide information to Social Security Administration information about your disabling condition.

Step 2: Once you submit an application, the local Social Security office will review your employment history to determine if you have worked enough years and paid Social Security withholding taxes long enough to qualify for disability insurance benefits.

If you meet the work history and earnings requirements, then your applications will be forwarded to the N.C. Disability Determination Services, a state agency that processes claims. Medical experts will contact your doctor and review your medical records and decide whether your disability meets the Social Security Administration’s strict definition of disability.

You may be asked to see a doctor selected by the SSA to evaluate your medical disability. Be sure to keep the appointment. To qualify, you must have a medically diagnosed disability that is expected to last at least a year and you must be unable to maintain gainful employment.

After reviewing all the medical evidence, the claims reviewers will make an initial decision. You will receive a letter informing you whether your application for disability benefits has been approved or denied.

Typically, it takes three months to five months to get a decision on the initial application for disability benefits. The time may vary depending on how long it takes to receive your medical records.

If your application is approved, it usually takes a couple months for the Social Security payment processing center to start issuing checks to you. You will receive a lump sum check covering any back benefits.

Step 3: Many people with valid disability claims receive rejection letters initially. It’s important to pay attention to the date on the letter.

If your disability application is denied, you have 60 days to request a reconsideration of the decision. This is the initial level of appeal. During a reconsideration, a different disability examiner and medical consultant will review your benefits claim. They may ask whether you have any additional medical records to submit.

They will review the file and issue a decision about whether you meet the definition of disabled and qualify for benefits. The amount of time required to get a decision on a reconsideration is about 100 days, according to recent SSA statistics.

Step 4: Request a Hearing

The next level of appeal is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. This gives you the opportunity to present your claim directly to the judge who will make the decision.

You have a right to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing. At this stage, most people do have legal representation. An experienced Social Security disability attorney can help you gather evidence to strengthen your case and arrange medical experts and witnesses to testify on your behalf. An attorney can help present the most up-to-date medical information about your disability and present the strongest possible claim for benefits.

The judge will look at the entire file and weigh all the evidence in the record. The judge may ask you and your witnesses questions. The judge may request the latest medical records from the treating physician and that the applicant have a consultative evaluation. Typically, it takes the judge several months to issue a decision after the hearing.

The decision will be sent to you and to your attorney if you have representation. If the decision is unfavorable, then you can file an appeal with the Appeals Council.

Step 5: Review by the Appeals Council

You have 60 days to file a request for a review by the Appeals Council. The appeals council reviews decisions made by administrative law judges in cases in which the judge’s decisions contains an error of law, was not supported by substantial evidence or if the applicant submitted new evidence. You submit a written appeal rather than appearing before the Appeals Council.

Step 6: Civil Action

The last step in the appeals process is to file a civil action in federal district court, asking the court to review the decision of the Appeals Council. The federal court may uphold the decision or send the case back to the Social Security Administration for further action.

Get Help from an Experienced North Carolina SSD Benefits Attorney

It is crucial to have experienced legal representation when pursuing Social Security disability benefits, especially during the appeals process. A knowledgeable attorney can make sure that those who make the decision on your claim have the most complete and up-to-date information.

The attorneys at Hardison & Cochran will fight for you at every stage in the claims process. You won’t pay for our service unless we are successful in helping you obtain disability benefits.

Contact us today, and let us provide a free review of your case.