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Understanding the Social Security disability appeals process

Many people in Michigan receive monthly Social Security disability benefits. Many others have been denied those benefits. How can those people appeal Social Security Administration denials?

To begin, an applicant must file a request for review of an SSA decision within 60 days of receiving a denial letter. The letter should include guidelines for filing an appeal. The Social Security disability appeal process has four stages.

In reconsideration, the first stage, the SSA will have its decision reviewed by a person who was not involved with the first decision. The applicant does not to be present except if she or he was ruled ineligible because of an improved medical condition; then he or she must explain in person why this should not affect eligibility.

In the second stage, the applicant may ask for a hearing if still denied. The hearing takes place in front of an administrative law judge who was not involved in any part of the previous process. An applicant will need to present claim-supporting evidence and may call witnesses and experts to support the appeal. After the hearing, the judge makes a decision that is mailed to the applicant.

In an appeals council hearing, the third stage, the applicant can ask council members for a case review. The council may or may not grant the request. If the council approves an appeal, it may ask the administrative judge to review the decision or review the judge's decision itself. The decision is sent by mail to the applicant along with the reason for acceptance or rejection.

In a federal court hearing, the fourth and final stage, the applicant files a lawsuit in federal civil court. The process for filing this lawsuit is discussed in the same letter in which the SSA communicates the appeals council's decision.

Source: SSA.gov, "The Appeals Process," Accessed Jan. 15, 2015

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