The Appeals Council is a branch of the Social Security Administration (SSA) headquartered in Virginia, whose sole purpose is to review Social Security decisions. If a Social Security disability applicant has their claim for benefits denied following their disability hearing (which is the second stage in the appeals process), the next step is to request that the Appeals Council review the judge’s decision. Although the only requirement is that this request be made in writing, the easiest way to do so is to complete Form HA-520, Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order,” which is then mailed to either your local SSA office, or the Appeals Council address on the form.
You have 60 days from the date you received the judge’s decision to file the form, and the SSA figures that you received it 5 days after it was mailed. In some cases, exceptions are made if there’s a good reason for the missed deadline. The form itself is very simple to complete, consisting of simply your contact information and a brief description of why you feel the judge’s decision was wrong. If you have additional evidence (such as updated medical records), they can be submitted with the form, or you can ask for additional time to submit them later.
When the Appeals Council receives a request for review, they will decide whether or not to accept it. If, after reviewing the request, they conclude that the judge’s decision was correct, they will deny the request for review. In some cases, the Appeals Council determines that the judge’s decision was wrong, and will reverse it. The Appeals Council can also decide to send the claim back down for another disability hearing with a different judge. There are no hearings at the Appeals Council level. All correspondence, including their decision, will be in writing. Due to the high volume of Social Security claims, it can take several months, or even more than a year, for the Appeals Council to make a determination on a request for review.
Although you can request an Appeals Council review on your own, it’s highly advisable that disability applicants reaching this stage of the process be represented by a qualified Social Security disability attorney. The majority of claims that are approved at the Appeals Council level are due to a technical or legal error by the judge. Social Security attorneys are intimately familiar with the laws and regulations regarding the Social Security disability claims process. A qualified disability lawyer can compose a brief (written argument) to the Appeals Council, explaining exactly how the judge’s decision was wrong. He or she can also request a copy of the transcript of your disability hearing, and can carefully look for small procedural errors that could warrant an Appeals Council review of your claim.
If the Appeals Council declines your request for review, or sends your claim down for another disability hearing that results in a denial, the only step left is to file a civil action in Federal Court. To do so, you must be represented by a licensed disability attorney.