A very unpleasant aspect of the Social Security Disability Insurance program is the high likelihood that most initial applications for benefits are denied. Nevertheless, people in Alabama who are considering applying for SSDI benefits should not let this unpleasant fact deter them. The federal regulations administered by the Social Security Administration has a multi-level appeal process that provides a significant opportunity to reverse the initial decision denying Social Security Disability benefits.
The first appellate step is to submit a request for reconsideration. Upon receipt of such a request, the SSA assigns the file to a person who was not involved in the initial decision. The reviewer will evaluate the entire file and the correctness of the decision. If the denial is affirmed upon reconsideration, the claimant can ask for a hearing before an administrative law judge. ALJs are attorneys who have been specially trained to review and consider applications for SSD benefits. The hearing is generally conducted in person or by video conferencing. The claimant will testify under oath, as will medical experts and persons with knowledge of the claimant's employment situation. After considering all of the evidence, the ALJ will render a decision on the claim.
If the ALJ decides that the claim should be denied, the claimant can request further review by the SSA Appeals Council. The Appeals Council may deny the request, return the file to the ALJ for further review or decide the case based on the record. If the Appeals Council affirms the denial, the claimant can seek relief by taking the case to federal court.
The services of an attorney who is experienced in SSD cases will be useful at any step in the appeals process. However, a capable attorney will be necessary to present an effective case to the ALJ and to the Appeals Council. If the case needs federal court review, the participation of an attorney is required to prepare the case and present it to the court. Many SSD claimants who hire lawyers to represent them in the appeals process are able to reverse the initial denial and to succeed in obtaining benefits.
Source: Social Security Administration, "The Appeals Process," accessed on March 15, 2017