Ask Atticus: I Keep Getting Denied for Social Security Disability. What Should I Do Next?
September 29, 2022 · 4 min read
My epilepsy has gotten worse and worse over the years. It’s been impossible to hold down a job. I was working as a cashier, but kept having to call out sick. When I finally got let go in May 2021, I applied for disability. It took 8 months to hear back about my application, and when I did, they rejected me. I read online that I should apply for reconsideration, so I submitted that request right away.
I just heard back that I got denied again. I’m frustrated and struggling. From everything I’ve read, I should be eligible. My condition is totally debilitating, and I know I won’t be able to work again anytime soon. I just don’t know how to prove that to the SSA. Is there any hope of getting approved? Should I apply again?
Understanding why you were denied initially, however, can help you understand your chances going forward.
Let’s go over why your application may have been rejected.
Two types of Social Security Disability denial
The reasons behind Social Security denial fall into two categories: technical and medical.
Technical denial for disability
A technical denial means you don’t meet the non-medical qualifications for SSDI or SSI. (About 30% of people who apply for benefits are denied because of a technical cause).
Many SSDI eligibility requirements are related to your work history. Applicants must have earned “work credits” over the last 10 years. In general, if you’ve worked five out of the last 10 years, you should have sufficient work credits. But you mentioned it’s been hard for you to maintain work. If you’re not 100% sure you’ve worked enough to qualify for the program, you can check your work credits by creating an SSA.gov account.
In some cases, an applicant didn’t pay all their due taxes—and because of that, the SSA doesn’t register their work credits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks work history through work credits based on the taxes you pay them.
The Disability Determination Services (DDS) will require you to work less if you currently earn too much from working. If you make more than $1,470 per month from work, it indicates to the SSA that you’re not too disabled to work and therefore are not eligible.
If you were denied for a technical reason, your rejection letter from the SSA should give you more details. A lawyer can work with you to better understand your work requirements from your rejection letter. They’ll explain how the work credits cited in these rejections work and what you can do to qualify.
Medical denial for disability
The other 70% of rejections are medical denials. In other words, the DDS doesn’t think your condition should keep you from working.
Perhaps one of the more misunderstood parts of the Social Security disability application is that their decision is not based on the severity of your illness, but on your ability to do any job.
To make this call, the SSA considers your age, education, work history, and specific medical conditions(s). Then they review the job requirements of many occupations on a list compiled by the Department of Labor.
This means that even if the SSA decides you can’t continue to work as a cashier, they’ll consider whether you’d be able to transition to any other type of work, with the limitations your condition imposes. If they think there’s another job you could do, despite your epilepsy symptoms, they’ll reject your application.
(There are some exceptions to this. If you’re over 50, the SSA doesn’t expect you to undergo the training required to start a new career. For applicants over 50, you do just have to prove you can’t do the work you’ve done in the past).
You were right to file for reconsideration after a denial—in particular if you were denied for medical reasons. It’s always better to appeal than to reapply—even if most people are denied again. What happens next is the hearing—which, for a majority of successful applicants, is the most important part of the process. Being able to speak on your condition in front of a judge makes it much easier to make your medical eligibility clear.
What comes next? How many times can you appeal Social Security disability decisions?
Here’s a look at what you can expect throughout the entire appeal process.
Reconsideration: You’ve done this part, and the wait is over. This is a thorough review of your claim, performed by people who were not a part of the initial decision. They’ll look at your initial evidence and any new evidence you’ve submitted.
Hearing by an ADJ: If your request for reconsideration is denied, you should request a hearing before an ALJ within 60 days of receiving your reconsideration denial letter. To help you build your case and prepare for the hearing, your best bet is to work with a disability lawyer. They’ll cross-examine witnesses from the state, and help you prepare for the judge’s questions.
Appeals Council review: If you are denied after your disability hearing, you can request to have your case reviewed by the Appeals Council. Note: The council can grant, deny, or dismiss your request at its discretion.
Federal Court: This is the most timely and costly avenue for appeal.Federal judges will review your case for legal and factual errors. Again, having a lawyer at this stage is crucial.
Our advice in brief: Gather your evidence and lawyer up
At this stage, all hope is not lost. And there are a few key things to do to improve your chances of getting benefits:
Gather, assess, and organize necessary medical records.
Get written opinions from your doctors and other medical professionals.
Consult with a vocational expert.
Prepare you for questions you could encounter at your hearing.
Disability lawyers never charge unless you win your case. And at that point, they legally can’t take more than 25% of your first disability check.
PS: If it feels overwhelming to start your disability lawyer search from scratch, we can help. When you call Atticus, you’ll get access to free legal advice on your case and if needed, we’ll connect you to one of the trusted lawyers in our network.
Sydney Hershenhorn is an attorney on Atticus’s Client Experience team. She‘s a licensed attorney, a graduate of New York Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking disability benefits. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.
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