The Social Security Administration rejects most applications for Social Security Disability Insurance. But claimants possess appeal rights for SSDI and the other program that pays benefits to people with disabilities, Supplemental Security Income. Pursuing these rights increase the odd of receiving benefits.
Benefit claimants can first ask SSA to assign a different examiner and medical team to reconsider their claim. If this request is rejected, applicants may file for a hearing before an administrative law judge in a system operated by the SSA. Approximately 25 percent of SSDI claimants were awarded benefits after a hearing.
Hearings for Social Security Disability do not have the formalities of a court trial. These proceedings are usually conducted in SSA offices and special hearing centers across the country. Hearings typically last 15 minutes to one hour but may run longer if there are witnesses. When SSA facilities shut down last year, hearings were held by telephone or online video.
Claimants usually have an attorney represent them at these hearings although other professionals or acquaintances sometimes play that role. Claimants who are represented have a three times greater chance of being successful with their claims, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study.
The ALJ will review the claimant’s file, additional evidence submitted to support the claim and medical examinations performed after the initial application. Claimants can provide sworn testimony at the hearing and the ALJ may ask questions about their past work and current limitations.
Claimant may also present testimony from expert witnesses such as physicians, psychologists, other medical professionals to support their claim that the disability prevents them from working for at least one year or lead to death.
Claimants who present expert witness testimony have a 1½ times better chance of a successful claim according to the GAO. SSA may also present medical or vocational experts to testify about the skill level and physical and metal requirements of the claimant’s occupation.
A claimant has the right to request review by the Appeals Council, a panel of ALJs, if the hearing officer rules against them. The council may deny, modify, or uphold the original decision or order another hearing. Claimants can appeal the Council’s decision to federal court.
Attorneys can assist claimants undergoing this process. They can help assure that their legal rights are protected.