Approximately 8.8 million Americans receive Social Security Disability benefits each year. If you’ve recently applied for disability benefits and were denied, you’re not alone. Only about one-third of Social Security Disability claims are approved after the initial application.
If you are denied, the first step is filing an appeal, a request for the reconsideration. If this is denied you must file a Request for Hearing. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, if the Administrative Law Judge denied your claim, you still have options: going to the Appeals Council.
Appealing your case to the Appeals Council can be a confusing process. If you’re at this step and aren’t sure how to proceed, here are a few frequently asked questions you might have.
What Is the Appeals Council?
After your appeal is denied by an Administrative Law Judge, you can ask to have your case looked at by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will take a thorough look at the judge’s decision, and based upon any evidence that you submitted during your claim, they will determine if the original ruling should stand, or if there was an error in your case.
You have 60 days after the Administrative Law Judge denied your claim to file an appeal with the Appeals Council.
What Are the Possible Outcomes?
Once your appeal is filed with the Appeals Council, it can take 12-18 months for a decision to be made. During this time, the Appeals Council will look over the judge’s decision, and your previous evidence supporting your case.
There are three different outcomes you can expect from the Appeals Council:
- Denial. Unfortunately, one of the outcomes of your appeal might be a denial. If the Appeals Council agrees with the Administrative Law Judge’s decision, they will send you a letter stating your benefits will not be approved. Your options are very limited at this point, so if this occurs, it is important to contact your lawyer to determine your next steps.
- Remand. In cases where the Appeals Council wants the judge to look at your case, again, they will request a remand. Often, a remand is utilized if the Administrative Law Judge made a mistake, or they don’t believe your case was given the full attention it deserved.
- Approval. The best outcome of this process is an approval. If the Appeals Council does not agree with the original judge’s decision, for whatever reason, they have the power to immediately approve your request for benefits, however this is very rare.
Once again, the entire process takes many months.
How Can I Prepare for the Appeals Council?
The Appeals Council is the fourth step in getting your Disability benefits approved, and you might assume that there is nothing else you can do by this point.
Your attorney is provided an opportunity to write a letter to the council explaining why the original judge’s decision was erroneous. Prior to writing this letter, which is also called a brief, your attorney will go over your decision by line..
For example, one of the duties of the Administrative Law Judge is to explain their decision, based upon the evidence provided by any experts, including your doctors. If the judge doesn’t provide a thorough explanation of why the doctors’ testimony wasn’t sufficient to support your case, or if the judge simply ignores your doctors’ recommendations, these circumstances could be grounds to have your case approved or remanded.
Another duty of the Administrative Law Judge is to seek testimony of a vocational expert. A vocational expert’s job is to provide alternative occupations that are available to the claimant, based upon availability and the disabled individual’s capabilities.
If the judge doesn’t take the advice of the vocational expert, or if a vocational expert isn’t even consulted, your appeal might be successful.
It is critical that you work with an attorney during this step. Your attorney will have the knowledge and expertise to pinpoint errors, and they will draft a competent and thorough brief.
If you are forced to take the fourth step in the process to obtain disability insurance, it is vital that you get the help you need from a reputable attorney. Don’t take on this task alone and instead, contact the professionals at Horn & Kelley P.C.