SSD Appeal Lawyers in Alabama
Millions of people apply for Social Security Disability Benefits each year. Of those, according to Disability Benefits Help, only about thirty percent are approved on the first application. Of course, this number varies significantly from state to state, but if you are one of those 70 percent denied, it can be devastating. You find yourself disabled, unable to work and make a living, yet you have been turned down for the benefits you desperately need. Don’t give up! There are four levels of appeal in the Social Security Disability process. At Carmichael Law Group, we can assist you with your Social Security Disability appeal, giving you another chance at the benefits you need and deserve.
Why Might a Social Security Disability Appeal Be Necessary?
There are many reasons your initial Social Security Disability application could be denied; some of those reasons are listed below.
- Lack of Hard Medical Evidence—Many initial Social Security Disability claims—as well as appeals—are denied because there is no solid medical evidence to back up the claim of disability. It is essential that your medical records clearly show your disability has interfered with your ability to work and perform normal day-to-day activities. As an example, suppose you have been seeing your family doctor for months for severe back pain. If your doctor has documented your visits and treatment plans but has failed to document how your back pain interferes with your ability to work, your SSD claim could be denied. It is a misconception that once you apply for SSD benefits, the agency will send you to a doctor who will document your injuries and your inability to work. While you could be asked to see an SSD physician, the medical records maintained by your primary care physician are crucial to the success of your SSD claim. Remember this when you visit your physician—make a point to always discuss how your disability affects not only your daily life but your ability to work and make a living. If you have doctor’s notes which excuse you from work] or any type of medical record that suggests your disability requires a modified work schedule, make sure these are included in your medical files. It is also crucial that you keep careful records of any missed time from work due to your disability.
- Prior Denials—Many people believe that once their initial Social Security Disability application has been denied, they should simply wait a few months and submit another application. In many cases, once the SSD person reviewing the new application sees you were denied on a prior occasion, the new application will be automatically denied. It is extremely important that you go through the SSD appeals process before filing another application because your chances of having your case approved are exponentially higher.
- Failure to Follow Prescribed Treatment—Perhaps your physician has determined that regular physical therapy will improve your disability, yet you have consistently missed your appointments. If this is the case, it is highly likely your application will be denied, since the examiner would be unable to determine whether your condition actually prevents you from being unable to work. If you have a legitimate reason for refusing to follow through with the course of treatment advised by your doctor, let your attorney know, and he or she can bring it up during the appeals process.
- Failure to Cooperate—You may not feel kindly toward the people handling your Social Security Disability claim, but it is still in your best interest to fully cooperate during the application process. Perhaps the Social Security office has asked you to provide documentation you don’t feel they need, but the fact remains that if you fail to provide the requested documents, your claim will almost certainly be denied. It is important that you remain in close contact with the person handling your case and provide requested documents in a timely manner.
- Insufficient Work Credits, No Disabling Condition for Twelve Months, or Being Above the Substantial Gainful Activity Level—As of 2019, you were not allowed to make more than $1,220 per month engaging in “substantial, gainful activity.” (work). Further, to be approved for Social Security Disability, you must have had your disabling condition for the past twelve continuous months. You must also have worked at least five of the ten years immediately preceding the onset of the disability, earning at least 20 work credits during that time.
- Your Disability is Based on Alcoholism or Drug Abuse
What Do You Need to Appeal?
If you are planning on appealing your SSD denial, it is extremely important that you have an experienced Social Security Disability attorney by your side. The appeal process can be both lengthy and complex, and few people are prepared to handle it on their own. The first level of “appeal,” is actually a “reconsideration.” You are basically asking the same agency who denied your original application to reconsider their decision. Of course, if you have updated medical records or any evidence that disputes the reason for your denial, your chances at reconsideration are much better.
Overall, however, only about 13 percent of reconsiderations receive approval. A new disability claims manner at the Disability Determination Services will review your disability application and medical records to see if the first decision was correct. If you have a disability attorney, he or she will determine whether your original application had “gaps,” and will help you fix any problems before turning your application in for reconsideration. You will file a “medical reconsideration” if the reason your claim was denied was because your condition was not severe enough, or a “non-medical reconsideration” if your denial was due to excess income or other non-medical reasons. Your reconsideration request must be submitted within 60 days of your original denial.
How Many Times Can You Appeal a Social Security Disability Denial?
If you count your reconsideration as an appeal, then you have four opportunities to appeal your original Social Security Disability denial. These include:
- Hearing Before an Administrative Law Judge
- Review by the Appeals Council
- Federal Court Review
If your reconsideration is denied, it is important that you speak to an attorney who will immediately file an appeal on your behalf for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. This should be done as quickly as possible because it can take up to a year for your case to be heard. As noted, the appeals process is lengthy, but if you are approved, your benefits will go back to the time of your original disability application.
How Can You Improve Your Chances of Success in a Social Security Disability Appeal?
Improve your chances of success in a Social Security Disability appeal by having a knowledgeable Social Security Disability attorney by your side. You can bring in a disability benefits attorney at any point in the application or appeals process, however, sooner is always better. Your attorney will know what information should be included in your original application and can add the necessary information to your appeal. Since deadlines are crucial in the SSD appeals process, having an attorney who is well-versed in SSD appeals can truly make a difference.
Further, since most disability attorneys work on a contingency basis, you will pay nothing unless your case is successful. Once your case has been approved, your SSD attorney will collect his or her fees from the back pay you are owed—usually 25 percent of the back pay, or $6,000 (whichever is less). Even if you happen to be capable of representing yourself throughout the appeals process, many judges are simply more likely to consider evidence when it is presented by a lawyer. You want to ensure your case is presented in the right way when it comes before a judge, and an experienced SSD attorney can help you accomplish that.
How Long Does Each Stage of Social Security Disability Appeal Take?
Administrative Law Judge Level
If your reconsideration is denied, your next appeal will be heard before an Administrative Law Judge. This is the hearing level where your claim has the highest chance of being approved, however, it could take twelve months or more for your appeal to be heard. According to the SSD Resource Center, about 50 percent of all cases heard before an ALJ are approved, however, this includes about 40 percent of unrepresented claimants and 62 percent of represented claimants. At this particular level, older applicants generally fare the best, because there is a “formula” used to determine a worker’s ability to learn a new trade or obtain suitable employment with their present level of skills and knowledge. Since there are fewer job options available to those who are over the age of 50, a judge is more likely to rule in an older applicant’s favor.
Appeals Council Level
If your ALJ hearing results in a denial, you will then take your Social Security Disability case to the Appeals Council. At the Appeals Council level, your SSD case has about a 13 percent chance of being approved. The average time it takes to process an appeal with the Social Security Disability appeal through the Appeals Council is generally from six months to two years. The average Appeals Council appeal takes about 260 days to complete. You have only 60 days from the time you receive your ALJ hearing decision to ask for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council. The Social Security Appeals Council does not actually review your disability claim, rather they decide whether the decision made by the Administrative Law Judge correctly followed the law. As noted, winning an appeal at this stage can be difficult. In most cases, the applicant simply receives a letter stating the appeal has been denied, although there are instances where a case will be sent back for another hearing, or the decision made by the ALJ will be overturned, and benefits will be approved.
Federal Court Level
If your Appeals Counsel hearing results in denial, you will take your case to the final level of appeal—the Federal Court. At the federal court level, your SSD case has about a 40 percent likelihood of being approved. It can take up to a year to receive a decision at this level due to the high caseload. As with all appeals for SSD, you must file your appeal at the Federal Court level within 60 days of your denial by the Appeals Council. Should you miss this sixty-day window, you will be required to start the application all over again. At this Federal level, the appeals process is even more confusing and legally complex. It is absolutely imperative that you have a highly qualified Social Security Disability attorney representing you at this level—not only because of the paperwork involved but because the court could require an oral argument. At this level either the judge will uphold the decision made by the Appeals Council, remand your case for additional review by the SS Administration, or grant you your Social Security Disability benefits.
How Can I Check the Status of My Social Security Disability Appeal?
To find out the status of your original application, you can sign into your Social Security account, scroll down to the “Your Benefit Application” section, and select “View Details.” To request the status of a Social Security Disability appeal, you can call 800-772-1213 and speak to a representative, who should be able to give you the original filing date of the appeal, the type of appeal, and the current status. If you have an attorney handling your appeal(s), he or she should be able to give you the status of your appeal.
How Can an Attorney Help You with Your Social Security Disability Appeal?
If you are disabled and unable to work, yet you have been denied Social Security Disability benefits, do not face the appeals process on your own. The SSD appeals process can be extremely complex, and it is almost a certainty that you will have better results with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney from Carmichael Law Group by your side. We can help you understand the process, make sure crucial dates are never missed, take care of all the paperwork on your behalf, and keep you up to date regarding where your appeal is at any given time. To give yourself a much better chance of receiving the disability benefits you need and deserve, contact Carmichael Law Group today.