The first step in applying for Social Security Disability benefits is filing an initial application. If your disability claim is denied, the second step is to ask for reconsideration of your disability claim. If that also fails, the third step in the application process is a hearing before an administrative law judge. The fourth step, if the administrative law judge denies your application, is to request that the Appeals Council review your application. Either you or your attorney can request that the Appeals Council reviews your case.
The Appeals Council does not evaluate the facts of your case. Instead, it is responsible for determining if the administrative law judge who reviewed your case and denied it made a mistake. There are three possible outcomes when your case is reviewed by the Appeals Council.
The Appeals Council may find that the judge did not consider all the relevant medical documentation in your disability claim or that the judge made a technical error under the law. In those cases, the Appeals Court will send your disability claim back to the judge and will instruct the judge to hear your case again. You must then wait for the judge to rule on your claim a second time to see if it will be approved or denied social security disability.
The Appeals Council may determine that the judge’s ruling was completely wrong. If so, it will overturn the judge’s ruling, resulting in your disability claim being approved.
Both of these scenarios are relatively rare. Most of the time, the Appeals Council will not find an error and will send you a letter stating that your request for review was denied. That means that the decision of the administrative law judge to deny your Social Security Disability case has been upheld.
An appeal can languish with the Appeals Council for over a year or it can be heard in just a few months depending on factors outside of your control such as the number of cases sent to the Appeals Council for review.
If you decide to file an appeal, you have only sixty days to do so after receiving notice that your disability claim has been denied to fill out Social Security Form HA-520. Social Security will assume that it takes you five days to receive their denial notice after it has been mailed, unless you can prove otherwise. If you are late in filing your appeal, it can be dismissed by the administrative law judge and you may lose your right to have your disability case reviewed. If you file after the deadline but have a good reason for doing so, it is possible that Social Security will extend the time limit. However, it is wise to file your request for appeal within the sixty-day limit.