The Social Security Disability Insurance program allows qualified workers with a disability to draw monthly benefits. To claim disability benefits, you must file an application with Social Security, either by visiting your local Social Security office, calling the agency's toll-free number (800-772-1213) or filling out an online application at ssa.gov. The application process may take several months, or years, depending on your particular situation.
Appealing a Denial
If your original application for Social Security disability benefits is denied, you have 60 days after the denial to file an appeal. The first appeal is known as a Request for Reconsideration. The agency sends your file to another adjudicator who examines your medical records as well as any updated information you can provide about your disability. The "recon" level usually takes three or four months; however, there are no deadlines for the agency to take action in the Social Security appeal process.
If your reconsideration is denied, you then have 60 days to file a Request for Hearing. The amount of time you must wait for a hearing depends on the workload at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) office that is handling the claim. Some ODAR offices can process hearing requests in a couple of months, while others take more than a year. The average wait time for an appealed disability claim, from initial application to hearing decision, stood at about 450 days in 2009.
Request for Review
After attending the hearing, you will receive a notice explaining whether your disability claim has been accepted. If you have been denied again, you must file a Request for Review. The file goes to the Social Security Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia, where a review board examines the decision, and a brief filed by you or your attorney explaining why the decision was incorrect. The review process usually takes about a year, sometimes longer. Again, Social Security does not act under a deadline.
Civil Court Action
By the time you have received a decision from the Social Security Appeals Council, you will probably have waited at least two years for a decision on your claim. If you receive another denial of your Request for Review, your only recourse is to file a civil lawsuit against Social Security in federal court. You also have the option of refiling your claim, and starting the process over.
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