Social Security Appeals Council

Many Social Security Disability applicants get their hopes up when the date arrives for their disability hearing. These applicants are usually aware of the fact that the numbers are in their favor and, as a result, they assume that disability benefits will be awarded by the presiding administrative law judge. While a favorable outcome as the result of a disability hearing does happen more often than not, there are still those individuals who are denied their Social Security Disability benefits at the hearing stage of the disability appeal process. These individuals must go further into the appeal process in order to obtain their disability benefits, which in most states involves a review of the case by the Social Security Appeals Council.

How to File for a Review by the Appeals Council

If you are notified that your Social Security Disability hearing was not decided in your favor, you only have 60 days from the date you receive notice of the denial to appeal the ruling that was made by the administrative law judge. This appeal must be made to the Social Security Appeals Council.

If you have a Social Security Disability attorney working with you at this stage of your appeal, which is highly recommended, he or she will file your appeal with the Social Security Office. If you do not have an attorney, you will have to fill out this appeal form yourself. On this form, you will have to explain why you feel that the decision made by the administrative law judge who oversaw your hearing was not correct.

Most Social Security Disability applicants are not well-versed in disability law. That is why it is so important to have a Social Security Disability attorney working for you at this stage of the appeal process. Your attorney will be able to point out which mistakes the administrative law judge may have made. These facts may be able to get the decision to deny your benefits reversed or, in some cases, get your case sent back to an administrative law judge for a new disability hearing.

What Exactly Does the Appeals Council Do?

It is important to understand that it is not the Appeal Council's job to review whether or not you are actually disabled. Its job is to determine whether or not the administrative law judge overseeing your case decided in error. If there is no evidence to support that the judge did decide in error, this appeal is likely to be rejected. If, however, your attorney can demonstrate how the ruling regarding your case was made in error, the Appeals Council will either award your benefits claim or send your case back to an administrative law judge for further review.

How Long Will an Appeals Council Review Take?

An Appeals Council review can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year depending on the specifics of your case and how many appeals are backlogged in the Social Security system. In 2010, the average processing time that it took for the Appeals Council to review a request was approximately eleven and a half months from the date the applicant or attorney filed the appeal. If you do have to go through this stage of the appeal process, plan on waiting nearly a year to receive a decision.

What Happens If Your Appeal is Denied?

If your appeal is denied by the Appeals Council, the remaining stages of your appeal will be quite different from the previous ones. Beyond this stage, you cannot be represented by a disability advocate. You must retain the services of a Social Security Disability attorney who is licensed to practice law. The reason for this is that the next stage of appeal is handled by the Federal District Court.

If your disability hearing was not decided in your favor and you want to pursue the Social Security Disability appeal process further, it is in your best interest to consult with an attorney. If you do have legal representation, speak with your attorney about filing an Appeals Council review. If the Appeals Council does not decide in your favor, it is time to discuss taking your case to Federal District Court. 

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