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Social Security Disability Process

STAGE ONE: INITIAL APPLICATION
A claim is filed for Social Security disability benefits at the local Social Security District Office. The application can be initiated online, over the phone, by walking into a local Social Security District Office, or by calling the Social Security Administration and asking for an appointment for someone to sit down with you and help you complete the application. Decisions at this stage typically take 3-6 months. In Indiana, about 70% of initial claims are denied.STAGE TWO: RECONSIDERATION
If the initial application is denied, the claimant has 60 days from the date on the letter to file a Request for Reconsideration.

Decisions at this stage typically take 6-8 weeks. In Indiana about 93% of Reconsiderations are denied.

STAGE THREE: HEARING
If the Request for Reconsideration is denied, the claimant has 60 days from the date on the letter to file a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge. At this point, an attorney experienced with Social Security cases can be helpful.

From the time a hearing is requested until the hearing is held has been taking about 18-24 months for cases handled through the Louisville, Kentucky hearings office; about 18-24 months for cases handled through the Cincinnati, Ohio hearings office; and about 18-24 months for cases handled through the Indianapolis, Indiana hearings office. Your residence determines which Hearings Office handles your case.

Hearings are not held in a courtroom, but in a conference room. They are not open to the public. There is no jury and no cross examining attorney. Hearings typically last about 60 minutes.

Hearings are held at the hearings office, either in-person (with the Administrative Law Judge in the hearing room with you) or via video-teleconference (with the Administrative Law Judge in one of several hearings offices in the country, but visible to you through a computer, similar to Skype).  You have a choice of which type of hearing you would like to have.

Only rarely are decisions announced at the hearing. Decisions at this step typically are received anytime from a few weeks to a few months after the hearing. Nationally, the approval rate at this stage is slightly less than 50%.

STAGE FOUR: APPEALS COUNCIL
If the claim is approved by the Administrative Law Judge, the claimant will receive a Notice of Decision letter (either Fully Favorable or Partially Favorable). About 6-8 weeks later, a Notice of Award letter will be sent telling how much the claimant will receive in monthly benefits and how much the claimant is owed in back pay benefits.

If, however, the disability case is denied at the hearing level, the letter received from the Administrative Law Judge will be a Notice of Decision – Unfavorable. The claimant has 60 days from the date on the letter to file a Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council. It typically takes about 11-14 months to get a decision from the Appeals Council, and they typically either agree with the Administrative Law Judge’s decision or they send it back for another hearing.  Only rarely does the Appeals Council directly award benefits.

STAGE FIVE: FEDERAL COURT
If the Appeals Council denies the appeal, the claimant has 60 days from the date on the letter to file suit in Federal District Court. Decisions at this stage typically take about one year.  Only rarely does the Federal Court directly award benefits. Having an attorney at this stage is highly recommended.