Becoming disabled and unable to work is a major life change that can flip your world upside down. On top of adjusting to life physically and mentally after injury or illness, you are also left with figuring out how to support yourself, and your family, financially. Thankfully, if you have worked long enough and have paid Social Security taxes on your earnings, you should be eligible to collect benefits if you meet the requirements after becoming disabled. This can ease some of the financial burdens you might be feeling. But what happens if your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security benefits gets denied? Not all hope is lost – you can request an appeal.
How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?
The application process can be completed in person, online, by mail, or by phone. Regardless of how you apply, the process is generally the same:
- Gather the information and documents required to apply. The Social Security Administration has compiled an Adult Disability Checklist to keep you on track as you apply.
- Complete and submit the application.
- The Social Security Administration reviews the application and supporting documents to verify you meet basic requirements and have worked enough years to qualify. They will also evaluate your current work activities to make sure you are no longer able to do your job due to your disability.
- The application is processed and sent to your state Disability Determination Services office, who determines whether you qualify for benefits.
- A letter will be sent in the mail informing you of the acceptance or denial.
What If My Application Is Denied?
If you’ve been denied benefits, you have the right to request an appeal in writing. Appeals must be requested within 60 days of receiving the decision. There are four possible levels an appeal could go through.
- Reconsideration can occur both for medical and non-medical denial reasons. In either case, your application will be completely reviewed by someone who wasn’t involved in the initial determination. A review of your initial materials and any new evidence will be considered during this period.
- Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge. If reconsideration was not in your favor, you can ask for a hearing with an administrative law judge which usually takes place within 75 miles of your home, or via video.
- Request for Review by the Appeals Council. If your hearing was denied, you can request a review be completed by the Appeals Council. The council can deny appeal requests if they find the hearing decision was made in accordance with social security law and regulations. If they do determine your case is worth reviewing, they can decide your case themselves or return it to an administrative judge for further review.
- Federal Court Review. Lastly, if you still disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision or they deny your case review, you can file a civil suit in a federal district court.
How to Write a Disability Appeal Letter
If your claim is denied and you’d like to start the appeal process, you have 60 days to do so. Reconsideration is the first (and could be the final) level of appeal. Your appeal can include a letter to help convince the reviewer to give your case another chance.
Before writing the letter, examine your decision notice closely. The letter should help you understand why your claim was denied. This reason will be the focus of your argument. Your decision notice will also state which impairments they considered in your initial application. If you have more impairments than were evaluated, be sure to point them out in your letter. You can also look at the sources the Social Security Administration used to evaluate your claim and determine if you have better sources to support your claim.
Once you understand why your application was denied, it is time to begin writing your letter. There are several components to include in a compelling appeal letter:
- Name and claim number. If your appeal documents are separated, you want to be sure your name and claim number are on top of each document in your claim.
- Provide missing information. If your claim was denied due to missing medical or financial information, explain what was missed in the letter. Additionally, make sure you have documentation to support the missed information.
- Provide additional information. Providing missed information is important, but providing additional information could also help your case. Detail new information in the letter and provide updated documentation to back up your new claims. This could include things like updated medical records, new test results, or a letter from your doctor.
- Point out mistakes. Be specific about what mistakes were made in the determination letter and where they were located.
In addition to including the above components, you want to make sure your letter is detailed and to the point, while also maintaining a polite and professional tone. Letters that are confusing or contain rambling are difficult for the review team to decipher. Be as brief as possible while still including all the important details and relevant information. Having to go through the appeal process may bring up some frustrating emotions, but keep your letter as polite and professional as possible. You may want a trusted friend or family member to look it over for mistakes and make sure it comes across as polite.
Do I Need to Hire a Social Security Lawyer?
Applicants are not required to hire an attorney to represent them during the appeal process, but many find that having one on your side is advantageous. A lawyer will be especially helpful in building your appeals case and ensuring all supporting documentation is included in your appeal. If your case goes through to a hearing, they can represent you in court to try getting your benefits reinstated.
If you are having a difficult time going through the social security appeal process on your own, contact the team of expert Social Security law attorneys at Gade & Parekh. We will work to get your appeal resolved as quickly as possible, so you can have one less thing to worry about while adjusting to this challenging time in your life.