The Social Security disability application process is notoriously difficult. Most people are denied at the initial application stage and approval rates are even lower at the reconsideration stage. Even successful applicants may wait months or years for a favorable determination. So, it’s understandable that many applicants drop out of the process.
But a recent report from the Urban Institute suggests that those who accept early denials at face value may be missing out. In fact, your chances of approval can change significantly at later stages of the process, especially if you have an experienced Social Security disability attorney at your side.
Social Security Disability Denial Statistics
Though the Urban Institute report is geared toward reform of the Social Security disability application and appeals process, the breakdown of outcomes at each level of the process highlights another issue. A significant number of applicants who abandon the process may have received benefits if they’d continued through the reconsideration and appeal stages. This is especially true if the applicant has the assistance of an experienced Social Security disability attorney during the appeals process.
The bottom line on approvals was that, among the cases tracked in the study, 48% of applicants were eventually approved for Social Security disability benefits. The more interesting and instructive data, though, concerns the 52% who were not approved at or before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level.
Denials at the Initial Determination Stage
It’s well known that most Social Security disability applications are denied at the initial determination stage. In this sample, 35% of disability benefits applications were approved at the initial determination stage and 65% were denied. Of the 65% that were denied, more than half didn’t appeal. That is, 52.7% of those who were turned down simply walked away. That’s about 34% of applicants abandoning their claims after the first denial.
Denials at the Reconsideration Stage
The reconsideration process involves a fresh look at the application and supporting information conducted by someone who wasn’t involved in the initial determination. Unsurprisingly, since reconsideration is essentially a repeat of the initial determination process, approval rates are lowest at this stage. In the sample reviewed for the report referenced above, 247 applicants requested reconsideration and just 32 were approved. Again, the drop-off rate was significant: More than 25% of those denied on reconsideration failed to appeal the denial.
That means that after the reconsideration stage, without even reaching a hearing before a human being with the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence, 38.7% of applicants in the pool studied had given up on their Social Security disability application.
That’s especially discouraging because approval rates increase significantly in the next round.
The Administrative Law Judge Hearing (ALJ)
After the ALJ hearing, 44.9% of those who reached the hearing stage were approved. Unfortunately, only about 33% of those whose initial applications were denied persisted to the point of receiving a determination from the ALJ.
Increasing the Likelihood of Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits
While many people who receive an initial denial apparently believe that it’s futile to continue to pursue benefits, the statistics above show that the opposite is true: A higher percentage of claimants are approved at the ALJ stage than at either of the two prior stages. There are many possible reasons for that higher success rate, including the more in-depth hearing conducted by the ALJ and the fact that more applicants have assistance from experienced Social Security disability attorneys in preparing for and presenting evidence at the ALJ hearing than in the earlier stages.
The attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci have decades of experience fighting for the rights of Ohio workers who have been injured or become disabled. If you’ve been denied Social Security disability benefits and think you’ve reached the end of the road, talk to us. The initial consultation is free and there’s no commitment.
The ALJ Hearing isn’t the Final Step
The data above clearly shows that the chances of receiving Social Security disability benefits increases significantly for those who persist to the ALJ hearing. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Researchers in this particular study stopped tracking after the ALJ hearing, but a Social Security disability applicant who has received a denial from the ALJ still has two possible routes to approval.
The first is the Appeals Council. If you’ve been denied by the ALJ, you can request an Appeals Council review. However, there is no right to this review. When the Appeals Council receives a request for review, it first determines whether to take up the review. It only agrees to review a fraction of cases and approval at this stage is relatively rare.
The next step is an appeal to the Federal District Court. A study published by the University of Pennsylvania Law School showed that 45% of cases at the federal court level were sent back to the agency, either with orders to further review the case or a direct order to provide benefits. And for some who receive an unfavorable decision from the district court, appellate review is an option.
Don’t Abandon Your Quest for Benefits Lightly
The bottom line is that more than half of Social Security disability applicants tracked in the Urban Institute study abandoned the process before reaching the stage at which they were most likely to be approved, and with multiple possible opportunities for approval ahead of them.
It’s easy to get discouraged when fighting for disability benefits, but putting your case in the hands of experienced disability lawyers like those at Plevin & Gallucci can relieve the burden and increase the likelihood of success. Call 1-855-4PLEVIN to learn more.