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Frequently Asked Questions: Social Security Administration

How does the Social Security Disability appeals process work?

When the SSA sends you a letter about a decision on your claim, they will tell you how to appeal the decision. According to the Social Security Administration website, there are generally four levels of appeal. They are: 

  • Reconsideration
    A reconsideration is a complete review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision. The SSA will look at all the evidence submitted when the original decision was made, plus any new evidence. 

    Most reconsiderations involve a review of your files without the need for you to be present. But when you appeal a decision that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because your medical condition has improved, you can meet with a Social Security representative and explain why you believe you still have a disability. 

  • Hearing by an administrative law judge
    If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the first decision or the reconsideration of your case. 

    The hearing is usually held within 75 miles of your home. The administrative law judge will notify you of the time and place of the hearing. 

    You and your representative, if you have one, may come to the hearing and explain your case in person. You may look at the information in your file and give new information. 

    The administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses you bring to the hearing. Other witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts, may provide information at the hearing. You or your representative also may question the witnesses. 

    It is usually to your advantage to attend the hearing. If you do not wish to do so, you must tell the SSA in writing that you do not want to attend. 

    In certain situations, the SSA may hold your hearing by a video conference rather than in person. The SSA will let you know ahead of time if this is the case. With video hearings, the SSA can make the hearing more convenient for you. Often an appearance by video hearing can be scheduled faster than an in-person appearance. Also, a video hearing location may be closer to your home. That might make it easier for you to have witnesses or other people accompany you. 

    Unless the administrative law judge believes your presence is needed to decide the case, he or she will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information given. 

    After the hearing, the SSA will send you a letter and a copy of the administrative law judge’s decision. 

  • Review by the Appeals Council
    If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council. The SSA will be glad to help you ask for this review.

    The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct. If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to an administrative law judge for further review.

    If the Appeals Council denies your request for review, the SSA will send you a letter explaining the denial. If the Appeals Council reviews your case and makes a decision itself, the SSA will send you a copy of the decision. If the Appeals Council returns your case to an administrative law judge, the SSA will send you a letter and a copy of the order.

  • Federal Court review
    If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court. The letter the SSA sends you about the Appeals Council’s action also will tell you how to ask a court to look at your case.