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Understanding the appeals process for SSD benefits

Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can seem intimidating. Having to answer detailed questions and provide a large number of supporting documents can be overwhelming. However, this situation should not deter individuals from seeking benefits that they need. Being denied initially is a possibility, but applicants should note their ability to appeal this decision.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) carefully considers all the information submitted with each and every application. Based on this information, the SSA will make a determination, sending a letter that details their decision. If the decision is unfavorable, the first option an applicant has is to seek reconsideration. This is the first level of the appeals process.

The appeals process is broken down into four levels. If reconsideration still results in an unfavorable decision, and applicant can request a hearing with an administrative law judge. This is a person who had no part in your original decision or reconsideration, and will make a decision based on everything originally filed along with any new evidence or information. The judge will question the applicant and their witnesses during the hearing. Based on everything provided, the judge will make a decision.

If an applicant has still not received a favorable decision, he or she can move to the third level of the appeals process, which is a review by the Appeals Council. They will look at the applicant's request for review; however, they can deny the request if they believe the hearing decision was correct. If they decide to review the case, they will either decide on the case or send it back to an administrative law judge for further review. If you do not agree with the Appeals Council's decision, or they denied a review of your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

The appeals process can seem lengthy and daunting, but it does provide several chances for an applicant to receive a favorable decision. It also provides the individual with the opportunity to make the application detailed and complete. Those considering SSD benefits or who have recently had their initial applications denied should understand their rights. A legal professional could help ensure you application is complete and that you properly exhaust all your resources in the appeals process.

Source: Ssa.gov, "The Appeals Process," accessed August 5, 2017

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