What is the Disability Appeals Process?

Tulsa Disability Attorney on Reconsideration and Disability ALJ Appeal Grounds

In the event that an initial application for disability benefits is denied, the first step in the disability appeals process is to submit a Request for Reconsideration of your initial application. However, many people believe this is a meaningless step because you are essentially asking the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider the previous decision.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Oklahoma disability cases result in an identical decision upon reconsideration. However, you must request reconsideration before you can move forward in the appeals process. Our disability attorneys provide this overview of the possible steps in appealing your Oklahoma disability application.

What Happens in a Disability Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge?

After the Social Security Administration denies your initial application a second time, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In addition to reviewing all records previously submitted to the SSA, an Administrative Law Judge may determine disability by ordering additional tests or obtaining testimony from expert witnesses. You will also have an opportunity to testify at the hearing. After the hearing, the ALJ will issue a Notice of Decision, awarding or denying SSDI benefits.

Occasionally, an ALJ will issue a “partially favorable” decision. This usually means that the disability judge concluded you became disabled later than you alleged. A partially favorable ALJ decision might also grant Social Security benefits for a closed period, which simply means that the judge concluded you were disabled but you are no longer disabled.

The work done prior to an ALJ hearing is often more important than what happens at the hearing itself. Working with Social Security lawyers who have extensive experience with the SSI and SSDI appeals process can make all the difference between having a successful appeal or another benefits denial. Our Tulsa disability attorneys know what information and records are important, and we leave no stone unturned.

If the ALJ denies benefits or rules a partially favorable decision, you can appeal. A claimant, or the person filing for disability, has the right to file an appeal with the Social Security Disability Appeals Council after an unfavorable ALJ ruling. However, this step is best performed by a legal representative.

What is the Social Security Appeals Council?

The Appeals Council is a group of judges who oversee disability benefits rulings to ensure they are consistent with the law and to review if the ALJ made technical errors. The Council will uphold the decision of the ALJ if they believe the ALJ gave sufficient reasons for his/her decision, even if there is evidence in the record that would support your claim. The Appeals Council can award benefits, deny benefits or opt to “remand” the case back to the ALJ for further consideration.

To begin an appeal with the Appeals Council, you must timely file a Request for Review in writing. While a claimant can handle this step of the disability benefits appeal process alone, it is best to have a disability lawyer help you with this process.

A Tulsa disability attorney at our Social Security law firm knows the common legal errors a disability judge may have made in the ALJ hearing and can effectively argue these errors for the Appeals Council.

What Happens if the Appeals Council Denies Disability Benefits?

Some claimants may have a fourth and final opportunity for appealing the ruling of their disability benefits if the Appeals Council denies their claim. You may have grounds for filing a complaint in federal district court against the SSA commissioner for failing to follow the law in determining benefits eligibility. Only a disability attorney can represent and file this type of benefits appeal, not a non-attorney representative. Your legal representative must file a brief on your behalf with the court that explains why the SSA wrongfully denied your disability claim.

The decision of a district court judge will either:

  • Uphold the decision to deny your claim from the Appeals Council
  • If there is evidence of legal error, the court may remand the case to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings – If you are successful in federal court, this is generally the type of decision that will be issued.
  • Grant Social Security benefits (This type of decision is rare.)

If the district court upholds the decision, you can appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which is generally the last stop in the appeals process. Appeals very rarely reach the Supreme Court.

Need an Attorney to Help with a Disability Appeal?

We are a husband and wife team of disability attorneys with Oklahoma roots who value representing Social Security benefit claims that we determine should not have received a denial. Our understanding of the application and appeals process may help improve your chance of receiving the benefits you deserve. It is important to work with a qualified SSDI attorney from the very beginning. Missing records or lack of information can hurt even a strong disability case. Contact our disability appeal attorneys today with any questions regarding the SSI or SSDI application or appeals process.