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Social Security Disability Claims Process

A Social Security Disability claim may be filed through your local Social Security office, online, or by telephone and mail. Except in special cases, we will take care of the paperwork needed to get the case filed or appealed. Careful drafting and completion of the "Disability Report" at the early stage is especially crucial to proper development of the issues in a disability case.

What happens after your Social Security claim is filed?

1. The Social Security Administration will send your case to the State Disability Determination Agency to gather additional information and to make an initial determination on your claim. In Illinois, the agency is located in Springfield.

2. The Social Security disability benefit case is assigned to an adjudicator. She should obtain records and ask your doctor for a report.The adjudicator may arrange to have you seen by an independent medical examiner. She will also send you forms to complete which describe your activities and problems. It is extremely important that your lawyer review your answers to these questions as the SSA may later rely on this form to cast doubt on your testimony at hearing or use your answers to reject your claim. 

3. If the claim is denied, a Request for Reconsideration may be filed. The Reconsideration is sent back to the same State Agency, but given to a different Adjudicator. If the Reconsideration is denied for your Social Security disability benefit claim, a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge may then be filed.

4. In most cases, it takes the State Disability Determination Agency 2 to 4 months to make a decision at the initial level and another 2 to 4 months at the reconsideration level.

The Administrative Law Judge Hearing

The hearing level is the most important point in your case if the claim has not already been allowed. It is often the best chance of obtaining approval of a claim but is also the slowest part of the process. It usually takes 12-18 more months to obtain a hearing and decision. A lawyer does not have the ability or power to have your case advanced before others. We all must await our turn.

The Administrative Law Judge is independent from all other persons at the Social Security Administration who have considered your case to that point. The representative’s job is to carefully review your file, prepare you for the questions you will be asked at the hearing, present written argument, make sure the evidence is obtained and submitted and to advocate at the hearing. The hearing is usually conducted at a local hearing office. We advise strongly against participating in a video hearing as you will want the Judge and experts to be able to see and listen to you in person. You and your attorney will be present. Sometimes a vocational expert or medical advisor is called by the ALJ as well to help development of the medical and vocational aspects of your case. You and your attorney have the opportunity to cross examine the witnesses and to present arguments to the Judge.

If the Administrative Law Judge denies the claim, a further review may be taken to the Appeals Council. If the Appeals Council denies your Request for Review, the Social Security disability case may be appealed to the United States court system.