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How do I File a Social Security Appeal?

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  • Written By: L. Burgoon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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Those who have been denied disability benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA) have the right to file an appeal. Filing a Social Security appeal begins with a written request for reconsideration. This notification prompts the SSA to send the complainant Social Security appeal paperwork, which then must be filled out and mailed back. Depending on the reconsideration outcome, an appeal can escalate to a hearing before an administrative law judge, an Appeals Council review, or a lawsuit in federal court. The claimant may represent himself throughout the process or hire a lawyer who specializes in disability benefits.

The SSA will supply written notification of its decision to approve or deny disability benefits after an application is filed. This information will include the reasoning behind the decision and information on how to appeal, if desired. A Social Security appeal is initiated when the claimant disagrees with the assessment and asks for reconsideration. Request for reconsideration must be filed within 60 days after receiving the SSA’s decision letter. Contact the local SSA office to receive the reconsideration paperwork.

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Reconsideration paperwork should be returned to the SSA promptly. Include specific reasons why the disability benefits are deserved and why the original decision should be overturned. It is beneficial to provide supporting documents; information from recent medical appointments or medical opinions from a new doctor can add weight to the claimant’s case. An SSA official not involved in the original decision will reconsider the case and make a determination based on the information provided.

If the claimant still does not agree with this level of decision, the Social Security appeal process can advance to a hearing before an administrative law judge. SSA will notify the claimant 20 days before the hearing of the date, time, and place. Most hearings occur within 75 miles of the disabled person’s residence, and the SSA strongly encourages in-person or video conference attendance. Both sides may question witnesses, such as doctors, about the information in the disability benefits application and appeal materials. The judge will render a decision based on the evidence, and will send written notice of the decision.

The Social Security appeal case can escalate to a review before the SSA’s Appeals Council. The council considers all requests for an additional review, but may choose not to hear a case if it believes the decision rendered thus far is correct. If the council considers the appeal, it will either hear the case or send it to another administrative law judge. The Appeals Council will provide written notice of any action taken.

The final step in a Social Security appeal is to file a lawsuit in federal court. A claimant might take this step if he or she disagrees with decisions rendered during the administrative review in the appeals process or if the Appeals Council opts against reviewing the case. Information on filing a lawsuit will be included in the Appeals Council notice.

The claimant may represent him- or herself throughout the review process or may hire an attorney to do so. An attorney usually will handle all of the paperwork, arrange hearing dates, represent the claimant at the hearing and all other legal proceedings, and gather the necessary supporting documents and witnesses. The lawyer may not collect a fee for assisting on a Social Security appeal case without first obtaining written approval from the SSA. Alternatively, the SSA will provide free assistance to those who wish to self-represent.

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