The Social Security Claim Process
The Social Security system is a huge bureaucracy, and as you might have guessed, the process for filing a claim and receiving benefits can be long and complicated. The good news is that an experienced disability benefits attorney like Randy Walton can guide you through this process and handle the frustrations for you, so that you can focus your energy on getting better.
Below is an outline of how the claim process typically works. If you have been injured or become disabled from working and live in Mobile or Baldwin County, call Walton Law, LLC at 251-455-5819 for a complimentary evaluation of your case.
A claim for either Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits begins by filing an application with the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can do this by calling the SSA, going to a local office, or filing your application online at the SSA website. The SSA will either schedule a time to meet with you in person or schedule a telephone interview to get information pertinent to your claim. Additionally, you will need to complete certain paperwork to get your claim started. In some rare cases, a claim is granted at the initial application stage, but most often the claim is initially denied, and it is necessary to request a hearing.
Request for Hearing
If your initial application is denied, you must file a Request for Hearing to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to appeal the decision. In addition to the specific form requesting the hearing, there is other paperwork that must also be completed. This must all be done within 65 days of the date of the initial denial. If the Request for Hearing paperwork is not submitted within the proper time frame, your claim will be dismissed. In very rare instances, the SSA may allow a Request for Hearing to be filed and accepted after the 65-day time period, but it is far better to get your paperwork in on time whenever possible.
Once the Request for Hearing is filed, the claim will be transferred to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) and eventually assigned to an ALJ. Currently, it is taking approximately 13 to 14 months to have a hearing once one is requested. How long it takes to get a hearing depends in large part upon the current caseload of the various ALJs.
Don’t consider any delay in the scheduling of your hearing as being personal to you. The ALJs typically handle hundreds of hearings each year and take the cases in the order in which they receive them. As your attorney, we cannot make the judge put your case at the front of the line and schedule a quick hearing. Generally, the only time we can request the judge to pull your file for quicker review is if your condition becomes terminal or if you have received an eviction or foreclosure notice. If this occurs, send the document to us, and we will immediately submit it to the judge.
While your request is pending, the SSA may send you to be evaluated by a physician. This physician’s job is not to provide you with any treatment, but only to provide a report to ODAR. The cost of this evaluation is paid by the SSA. If such an appointment is scheduled, you should attend the appointment at the time and place scheduled and be cooperative with the doctor. Occasionally, the SSA will schedule more than one of these types of appointments.
The Hearing – Once your hearing is scheduled, ODAR will forward a notice to you and your attorney setting forth the date, time and location of the hearing. Prior to the hearing we will obtain a copy of your file from ODAR and review it. We will also schedule a time to meet with you and discuss the specifics of the hearing. Depending upon the judge assigned to your case, the hearing will typically last between 30 and 45 minutes. It is not necessary to bring witnesses to testify at the hearing unless your attorney directs otherwise.
The Decision – The ALJ will issue a written decision after the hearing, which includes a finding either that you are disabled or not disabled, and setting forth the reasons for the decision. Depending on the judge, a decision is usually issued within 30 to 60 days, although it may take longer.
Appeal – If the judge issues an Unfavorable Decision, meaning that you are found not to be disabled, your attorney will discuss with you the possibility of filing an appeal. If we feel that an appeal may be successful, we will give you specific paperwork to sign and complete so that the appeal can be pursued. An appeal is filed with the Appeals Council in Falls Church, Virginia. It typically takes the Appeals Council about a year to make a decision. During this time you should continue to get regular medical treatment and inform your attorney of any changes in your doctor or condition.