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How to Appeal a Disability Denial at Every Stage

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
Published December 11, 2023
3 min read
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You’ve applied for disability benefits and your application has been denied. Maybe you’ve even appealed that denial and your appeal has been denied, too.

It is your right to appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision — and filing for an appeal is a standard part of the disability application process. Learn about each stage of the appeals process and how to appeal.

Can I appeal a Social Security disability denial?

Yes, it is your right to appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision on your disability application if you feel it is incorrect. Before filing an appeal, it is important to understand the reason for the SSA’s denial. There are two types of denials:

  1. Medical denials: If the SSA denies your application or medical reasons, your application materials did not include enough medical evidence to prove your disability. After you appeal the decision once or twice, and your case goes to a hearing, your chances of approval increase.

  2. Technical denials: Technical denials, also known as non-medical denials, indicate you did not meet the criteria based on working hours, employment history, or income requirements. You can appeal a technical denial, but unless your work history, income, or resources change, you will likely be denied again. 

4 Stages of the disability appeals process

There are four stages of disability appeals, and most applicants go through at least two:

  1. Reconsideration: First, you’ll submit a reconsideration, asking for the SSA to reassess their initial decision. Most people receive a rejection again at this stage.

  2. Hearing: The next step is a disability hearing with an administrative law judge, also known as an ALJ. A disability lawyer can help you prepare for this intensive review.

  3. Appeals Council review: After another denial, some applicants move on to a review from the Appeals Council, which reconsiders the judge’s denial. 

  4. Federal court review: Finally, the last step in the appeals process is a Federal Court Review. The chances of winning an appeal in federal court are low. 

How long does a disability appeal take?

Each stage of a disability appeal process takes a different amount of time. The timelines vary from case to case, but the average times in 2023 are:

  • Initial decision: 6.1 months 

  • Reconsideration decision: 6.1 months 

  • Hearing decision: 13 months to get a hearing date, plus 1-3 months for a decision

The time it takes you to get a hearing can vary based on the state in which you live. For example, if you live in Wisconsin, it could take as long as 20.8 months. In Kansas, the average wait time drops to 9.3 months. Overall, the average wait time to get a disability hearing in 2023 is 15.9 months.

Read more details on how long a disability appeal takes.

How to appeal an initial SSDI or SSI denial

The Social Security Administration denies more than 70% of initial applications. If you receive a rejection on your initial application, you have 60 days to appeal and request a reconsideration.

You can file for reconsideration via your SSA online account. You can also submit a request by mail, or in person at your local SSA office. We recommend using your online my Social Security account — it’s faster and easier, and there’s less of a chance your request will get lost.

After submitting your appeal, you’ll wait an average of 6.1 months before receiving the SSA’s decision on whether your claim was approved or denied. 

How to increase your chances of winning reconsideration

Filing an appeal is typically not the end of the process — the SSA denies approximately 90% of appeals. Follow these tips to increase your chances of winning at reconsideration:

  • Understand what kind of denial you received, medical or technical

  • File your reconsideration request within the 60-day window

  • Submit the correct forms ( SSA-561, SSA-3441, or SSA-827)

  • Write a disability appeal letter

  • Provide new medical documentation

  • Get a letter from your doctor

  • Work with a disability lawyer

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How to appeal a reconsideration denial

If the Social Security Administration denies your reconsideration, you can file for another appeal within 60 days. Your case will move to a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (ALJ).

Usually, it takes applicants about 16 months to get a date for their hearing. Most hearings take place over the phone. The judge will ask you questions about your disability, how it affects your daily life, and your work history.

The best way to prepare for your hearing is to work with a disability lawyer. People are three times more likely to win their hearing if they have a lawyer who can walk them through how to appeal disability. An attorney can help you prepare for the hearing, represent you during the hearing, and follow up afterward. 

How to appeal a hearing denial

At the hearing stage, the SSA approves 54% of disability applicants. If you receive another denial at your hearing, you have the option of appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will either change the decision, uphold the decision, or send your case to a hearing again. However, it’s difficult to get a lawyer to help you at this stage because your chances of winning are low.

How to appeal an Appeals Council denial

People who receive a denial from the Appeals Council can move on to a Federal Court Review if desired. This is a long process, and your chances of winning are low. 

This type of appeal essentially involves suing in court or filing a civil action to get a different decision. If you are denied at this final stage, there’s nothing else you can do.

Disability appeal approval rates

The average approval and rejection rates at each stage of a disability appeal are:

  • Initial disability application: 20.7% approval, 79.3% rejection

  • Reconsideration: 10% approval, 90% rejection

  • Hearing: 54% approval, 46% rejection

Your chances of winning with the Appeals Council or Federal Court Review are very low — in some cases, less than 1%.

Get professional help with your appeal

The best way to increase your chances of winning at any appeal stage is to work with a disability lawyer. A good disability lawyer can help at any stage of the appeals process. At the hearing stage, your chances of winning are three times greater if you have a lawyer on your side. Start with our two-minute disability quiz so we can provide you with tailored, helpful information. Then, if you are interested, we’ll match you with a lawyer in 48 hours who can help with your appeal.

Related resources:

Can a Lawyer Help My Social Security Disability Appeal?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

How to Write a Disability Appeal Letter: 8 Tips and Sample Letter

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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