The Approval Process

How the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) process works: from applying to appealing.

There are four levels in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) review and award system for disability, plus an additional level that reaches Federal District Court. Only a small percentage of applicants will pass through all five levels.

Learn More About Each Level

This level includes the Social Security disability application and in most instances, the Activities of Daily Living questionnaire. You can complete both of these in empower. One of our representatives will then review your information for your claim and submit your relevant medical and vocational documentation.

The Disability Determination Services (DDS) in your home state makes the initial disability determination. They secure medical evidence and arrange for one or more consultative exams if there isn’t enough evidence to make a decision. DDS gathers and evaluates all the information to arrive at a disability determination.

The wait period at Level One may take as little as three months, but the average is four to six months.

Our award rate of 51% for initial claims is much higher than the SSA standard of 35%.

There are 200+ rare diseases and cancers that may qualify someone for a quicker SSDI decision through the Social Security Administration’s Compassionate Allowances program.

If your initial disability application is denied, you have 60 days to file a reconsideration or first appeal. You can file a disability appeal using empower. We will review any changes to your medical and vocational information and prepare you for the next phase of the process. At this level, a different individual within the SSA reviews your application and will send you a letter explaining how it reached its determination.

The average wait period at Level Two is three to five months.

We maintain a 22% award rate compared to the SSA award rate of 13%. 

If the reconsideration is denied, you must again notify the SSA within 60 days that you will appeal the decision. This moves your application to the hearing level. One of our representatives will file for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), brief you about how to prepare for your SSDI hearing and appear with you before the judge.

It’s important that you submit any additional evidence you want considered to the ALJ as soon as possible. About 20 days prior to your scheduled hearing, you will receive a notice indicating the date, time and place of your hearing. The ALJ usually holds the hearing within 75 miles of your home. If the ALJ schedules a hearing, you should make every attempt to attend.

At your hearing, the ALJ will explain the issues in your case and may question you and any witnesses. The ALJ may ask other witnesses, such as a doctor or vocational expert, to provide information at the hearing. You and any witnesses will answer questions under oath. You and your True Help representative may question any witnesses and submit evidence. The ALJ will make an independent decision based on the evidence including all testimony at the hearing.

After your hearing, the ALJ issues a written decision after reviewing all of the evidence. In some cases, your True Help representative may ask for a decision on-the-record, which means the ALJ reviews your claim and makes a decision without a hearing. In all cases, you and your True Help representative will receive a copy of the ALJ decision.

The SSA estimates the average time spent at Level Three is 256 days.

Our award rate for customers who appeal at Level Three is 70% compared to the SSA award rate of just 45%. 

If your hearing or second appeal ends in a denial, you have 60 days to file a review to the Appeals Council. At this level, the Appeals Council will review the hearing decision to determine if it was rendered properly according to the law.

We will review your case again and may submit an appeal, along with any additional medical information and a written brief, to the Appeals Council.

The SSA estimates the average time to receive a decision at Level Four is 364 days (about 12 months). Only 1% of third appeals are overturned and result in a favorable decision.

The final level in the appeal process is the federal court system. Less than 1% of all claims reach this level. Approximately 70% of these appeals are denied with a small amount receiving a decision in FDC that resulted in an award. The remainder of those are remanded or sent back to the hearing level for an additional hearing.

Receiving Your SSDI Benefits

The amount of monthly Social Security Disability Insurance benefits you’ll receive can be calculated by using the amount of your past earnings and your date of birth. Determine yours by using our SSDI Benefits Calculator.

Continuing Disability Review (CDR)

Your eligibility for SSDI benefits is subject to review at certain intervals after benefits are first awarded. These intervals are based on whether your condition is expected to improve. These reviews are usually at one, three, five or seven years. For example, if medical improvement is expected, a CDR date of one year is established at the time your benefits are awarded.

You may be able to suspend a CDR by participating in the SSA’s Ticket to Work program, and Allsup Employment Services can help.


Ready for True Help with SSDI?

empower is a personalized online tool that guides you through the SSDI application process and can help you use these benefits to return to work, if and when you medically recover. Get started by taking our free SSDI Assessment to determine your likelihood of qualifying.

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