The Social Security Appeals Process
Social Security wants to be sure that every decision made about your disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application is correct. Social Security carefully consider all the information in your case before we make any decisions that affect your eligibility or your benefit amount. When Social Security makes a decision on your claim, we will send you a letter explaining our decision. If you do not agree with our decision, you can appeal — that is, ask Social Security to look at your case again. When you ask for an appeal, Social Security will look at the entire decision, even those parts that were in your favor. If their decision was wrong, we will change it.
When and how can I appeal?
If you were recently denied Social Security benefits for medical or non-medical reasons, you may request an appeal. Your request must be in writing and received within 60 days of the date you receive the letter containing Social Security’s decision. The fastest and easiest way to file an appeal of your decision is by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/appeal. You can file online and provide documents electronically to support your appeal. You can file an appeal online even if you live outside of the United States.
Generally, there are four levels of appeal.
- Hearing by an administrative law judge
- Review by the Appeals Council
- Federal Court review
When Social Security sends you a letter about a decision on your application, they will tell you how to appeal the decision.
A reconsideration is a complete review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision. Social Security will look at all the evidence submitted when the original decision was made, plus any new evidence. Most reconsiderations involve a review of your files without the need for you to be present. But when you appeal a decision that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because your medical condition has improved, you can meet with a Social Security representative and explain why you believe you still have a disability.
If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the original decision or the reconsideration of your case. The hearing is usually held within 75 miles of your home. The administrative law judge will notify you of the time and place of the hearing. Before the hearing, Social Security may ask you to give them more evidence and to clarify information about your claim. You may look at the information in your file and give new information. At the hearing, the administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses you bring. Other witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts, also may give us information at the hearing. You or your representative may question the witnesses.
Hearing by Video Conference
In certain situations, Social Security may hold your hearing by a video conference rather than in person. Social Security will let you know ahead of time if this is the case. With video hearings, they can make the hearing more convenient for you. Often an appearance by video hearing can be scheduled faster than an in-person appearance. Also, a video hearing location may be closer to your home. That might make it easier for you to have witnesses or other people accompany you.
It is usually to your advantage to attend the hearing (in person or video conference). You and your representative, if you have one, should come to the hearing and explain your case. If you are unable to attend a hearing or do not wish to do so, you must tell Social Security why in writing as soon as you can. Unless the administrative law judge believes your presence is necessary to decide your case and requires you to attend, you will not have to go. Or Social Security may be able to make other arrangements for you, such as changing the time or place of your hearing. You have to have a good reason for us to make other arrangements. After the hearing, the judge will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information you give. Social Security will send you a letter and a copy of the judge’s decision.
If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council. Social Security will be glad to help you ask for this review. The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct. If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to an administrative law judge for further review. If the Appeals Council denies your request for review, Social Security will send you a letter explaining the denial. If the Appeals Council reviews your case and makes a decision itself, Social Security will send you a copy of the decision.
If the Appeals Council returns your case to an administrative law judge, Social Security will send you a letter and a copy of the order.
If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court. The letter Social Security sends you about the Appeals Council’s action also will tell you how to ask a court to look at your case.
Will my benefits continue?
In some cases, you may ask Social Security to continue paying your benefits while Social Security makes a decision on your appeal. You can ask for your benefits to continue when:
- You are appealing our decision that you can no longer get Social Security disability benefits because your medical condition is not disabling
- You are appealing our decision that you are no longer eligible for SSI payments or that your SSI payment should be reduced or suspended.
If you want your benefits to continue, you must tell Social Security within 10 days of the date you receive our letter. If your appeal is turned down, you may have to pay back any money you were not eligible to receive.
Can someone help me?
Yes. Many people handle their own Social Security appeals with free help from Social Security. But you can choose a lawyer, a friend, or someone else to help you. Someone you appoint to help you is called your “representative.” Social Security will work with your representative just as we would work with you. Your representative can act for you in most Social Security matters and will receive a copy of any decisions we make about your application. Your representative cannot charge or collect a fee from you without first getting written approval from Social Security.
Contacting Social Security
The most convenient way to contact Social Security anytime, anywhere is to visit www.socialsecurity.gov. There, you can: apply for benefits; open a my Social Security account, which you can use to review your Social Security Statement, verify your earnings, print a benefit verification letter, change your direct deposit information, request a replacement Medicare card, and get a replacement SSA-1099/1042S; obtain valuable information; find publications; get answers to frequently asked questions; and much more. If you don’t have access to the internet, Social Security offers many automated services by telephone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or at our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing.
Contact Eric Brown at the Social Security Corner
Eric has a robust Social Security Disability practice where he has represented clients in close to one hundred Social Security hearings since he began practicing Social Security law. He has helped Social Security claimants get benefits who have both physical and mental disabilities. He enjoys this practice because it allows him to help those whose circumstances have rendered them unable to work. He is an advocate for those who have spent their whole working lives paying into an insurance system (our Social Security Disability system) that has now denied them the benefit of that insurance at the time of their greatest need.