You were denied disability. Now what?
First, don’t panic. Most people who end up getting benefits are denied in the application stage.
Even after you get rejected, you could still have a great case. Let’s go over the reasons for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) denial and what you can do about it.
The reasons behind Social Security denial fall into two categories based on SSDI and SSI qualifications: technical and medical.
When you get rejected for disability for a technical reason, 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 relate to your work history. Applicants have to have worked for a minimum amount of time in the past ten years, and that time varies by age. They also can’t make more than about $1,400 per month through work.
If your Disability Determination Services (DDS) office denies your application because you don’t meet the work requirements, you’ll need to change your work behavior to meet the criteria, or meet the income limits for SSI (more on that later).
On the other hand, the DDS will require you to work less if you currently earn too much from working. If you make more than about $1,400 per month from work — it indicates to the SSA that you’re not too disabled to work, and therefore not eligible.
In some cases, an applicant gets rejected for not having enough work history because they didn’t pay all their due taxes. The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks work history through work credits based on the taxes you pay them.
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.
In a situation where you can’t change your work behavior, you can consider Social Security Insurance (SSI) instead. This program doesn’t have work requirements and instead has income requirements.
Technical rejections for SSI tend to relate to assets and income.
SSI benefits require you to have less than $2,000 in assets if you’re single and less than $3,000 if you’re married. The SSA calculates your earned and unearned income depending on a wide range of factors (more on those here).
When you get rejected for SSI because you have too many assets, you may be able to gift or sell those assets to stay below the asset limit. In a case where you don’t qualify due to income, you might need to stop working, or work less, to stay below the income threshold.
The other 70% of denials count as medical denials — in other words, the DDS doesn’t think the condition counts as an eligible disability. Even if your condition is on the list of disabilities that could qualify, it’s up to the DDS to choose if your specific situation counts.
This type of denial is very common and often the start of a long process to get SSDI benefits.
Unless you have a listing level condition (like stage IV cancer or ALS), the quality of your medical evidence will be paramount. But the DDS and SSA don't consider all evidence equal. They prioritize applications from people who seek frequent treatment, especially specialist care.
Your best bet to minimizing your chance of getting a medical denial is to see your doctor often for your disability to get as much evidence as possible.
But, even applicants who do everything “right” can still get a rejection.
After you receive your denial, you can submit an appeal within 60 days. If you choose to do so, you resubmit your application for reconsideration from the SSA instead of the DDS.
When you have the choice between appealing and reapplying after a medical rejection, always appeal.
Reapplying with the same medical situation will get you the same rejection, but appealing will escalate your case for further consideration. The SSA also calculates back pay, the money owed to you after approval, starting from your application date, meaning you’ll lose out on that payment if you reapply.
Since the SSA denies 90.8% of reconsiderations, most applicants who make it that far will need to schedule a hearing.
During the appeal and hearing stages, your lawyer will make the process easier. They’ll gather all evidence and partner with you to make the best case possible for benefits.
(For more context about what you can expect at this stage, check out our articles on how to prepare for a hearing, and how your lawyer will help during a hearing).
If you get rejected for disability benefits at your hearing, your next step involves making a federal court appeal.
It isn’t very common for applicants to get benefits in any hearing after their initial hearing.
Talk with your lawyer about your options if you end up getting denied at that point. They’ll let you know if you have a good case at this stage in the process.
Your lawyer will then begin the federal appeal process or refer you to the right lawyer if they think it’s an option worth pursuing.
The likelihood of getting approved for benefits at this stage may be low, but they’re still higher than if you don’t try at all.
The SSA puts zero limits on the number of times you can apply for disability benefits.
In a situation where you don’t have the medical evidence or life circumstances to qualify, remember that those factors can change in the future. You can reapply for SSDI when you get more medical documentation or work experience.
If the SSA denies your claim, an experienced lawyer will raise your chances of success with an appeal. Applicants who hire a lawyer have a three times higher success rate than those who don’t.
Every day, Atticus helps hundreds of people find the right disability lawyer for free. Let Atticus match you today.
How long has your condition made it hard to work?
At the bottom of many websites, you'll find a small disclaimer: "We are not a law firm and are not qualified to give legal advice." If you see this, run the other way. These people can't help you: they're prohibited by law from giving meaningful advice, recommending specific lawyers, or even telling you whether you need a lawyer at all.
There’s no disclaimer here: Atticus is a law firm, and we are qualified to give legal advice. We can answer your most pressing questions, make clear recommendations, and search far and wide to find the right lawyer for you.
Two important things to note: If we give you legal advice, it will be through a lawyer on our staff communicating with you directly. (Don't make important decisions about your case based solely on this or any other website.) And if we take you on as a client, it will be through a document you sign. (No attorney-client relationship arises from using this site or calling us.)
Terms | Privacy | Disclaimer