If you’ve spent any time researching the disability process online or talking to people you know about their experience applying for benefits, you may be more confused than you were before! That’s because the process for determining whether you qualify for benefits and how likely you are to put forth a successful claim is unique to each individual.
Regardless of whether you work with a disability attorney on your claim or not, it’s important to educate yourself on the process. Let’s review the general steps involved in filing for disability below.
- Initial application (1st step). This can often be done online, over the phone, or in person by contacting your local Social Security Administration field office found at ssa.gov. It will take approximately 3 months to hear from the SSA. Most applications (over 75%) are denied at this stage. Of note: many attorneys will not work with applicants at this stage and will instruct you to file on your own time as this can be a time-consuming process. Unlike those firms, we DO accept and help clients file an initial disability claim application.
- Reconsideration (2nd step). If you are denied at step one, you will move to the Reconsideration stage. This is an appeal of the initial denial, and it involves completing a form provided by the SSA. This will take another few months. Your claim will more than likely be denied here as well.
- Hearing (3rd step). Most people who are awarded benefits receive them after this final stage. Hearings are held by Administrative Law Judges in Greensboro, Charlotte, Raleigh and Fayetteville. Medical evidence along with letters from doctors is essential to prevailing. An Administrative Law Judge will evaluate your case based upon the medical evidence you present and the testimony you provide.
While non-attorneys can file Social Security Disability claims, the odds of prevailing are against you. Attorneys are skilled at compiling evidence and presenting facts in a way that will greatly increase your chance of a successful claim.
From start to finish, the whole process can take over 24 months to complete, but we go to great lengths to expedite the process when and where possible. Perhaps the best way to do this is to ensure your medical evidence and claim is as strong as it can possibly be, but regardless, claimants working alone or with an attorney should plan for a long wait as they work through the process.
The good news is that if you are awarded benefits, those benefits are based on a retroactive date that the judge determines to be your ‘Date of Disability.’ So, even though the wait is extended, if claimants are successful, they will receive monetary benefits for that period of time.