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Your Chances of Winning a Social Security Disability Appeal (Your Odds Change With a Lawyer)

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney

If you get a rejection on your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application, you have the right to appeal that decision.

You might wonder what to expect during the appeal stage — and if it’s worth it to appeal in the first place.

It turns out that many people who win disability benefits had to appeal first. Just because you received a rejection doesn’t mean you have a hopeless case.

Most appeals are worth pursuing, but they can take some work. Here are the average odds of winning an SSDI or SSI appeal and what you can do to raise those chances.


83% of people have legal representation at their hearing—and for good reason. Studies show you're three times as likely to win benefits with the help of a lawyer. Atticus can pair you with the best legal help for your case—for free.

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The stages of an appeal (and the odds of winning each)

Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices reject 69.3 percent of initial disability applications, giving the applicants room to appeal. You have 60 days from your application denial to submit an appeal.

Appeals fall into two stages — reconsideration and a hearing. But, if you lose your hearing, you have the option to continue appealing in federal court.

Reconsideration

Your chances of winning SSI or SSDI at reconsideration are low compared to the hearing stage. In 2017, the latest year we have official data, 9.3 percent of applicants got benefits when asking for a reconsideration.

During the reconsideration stage, you’ll ask to have your application reviewed at the federal level by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The DDS, your local benefits officials, handled your initial application.

It usually takes more than 100 days for the SSA to review your reconsideration.

Hearing

About half of people who make it to an appeal hearing win disability benefits. In 2017, 48.9 percent of applicants won benefits at their hearing.

After your reconsideration gets rejected, your next step is to schedule a court hearing for your appeal. This hearing usually happens one to one and a half years after the reconsideration decision, and it takes around a month for the judge to make a decision.

The hearing stage offers a higher chance of winning a Social Security appeal than the reconsideration stage. But, it also has many factors affecting those odds.

Some judges have higher allowance rates than others. You can see the number of awards and denials by judge in your area on the Social Security website.

To figure out the percentage rate for your local judges, take the number under the “Awards” column and divide it by the number under the “Decisions” column. Then, multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage number.

Let’s say your local judge had 10 decisions and five awards. Divide five by 10, and you’ll get 0.50. Multiply that number by 100, and you’ll learn that the judge awards benefits at a 50 percent rate.

The nature of your case will also affect your odds of getting benefits. Some situations fit disability qualifications more neatly than others, but having an unusual case doesn’t make it un-winnable.

In 2019, the most common reasons for denying benefits at the hearing stage were:

  • The person’s condition didn’t or wasn’t expected to last more than 12 months (4.3 percent)
  • The court didn’t consider the person’s condition severe enough (24.8 percent)
  • The court considered the person able to do their usual past work (8.6 percent)
  • The court considered the person able to do another type of work (41.8 percent)

So, during your hearing, you’ll need to prove that you have a long-lasting condition that makes you unable to work. A lawyer can help you make this case.

Federal court

If you lose your appeal hearing, you have the option to take your case to federal court. However, the odds of winning SSDI in federal court are very low.

It’s also worth noting, however, that even a low likelihood is higher than not trying at all.

Why should I appeal instead of reapplying?

When you appeal a denial instead of reapplying for disability, you’ll get more back pay if you get approved for benefits.

Back pay is the benefit money the government owes you but you haven’t received yet. SSI and SSDI calculate some or all back pay based on your application date.

In other words, the earlier your application date is, the more back pay you’ll get alongside your first benefits check.

So, if you start over instead of appealing, you could lose out on additional money owed to you.

Plus, when you don’t appeal or move on to a hearing, you’ll have to restart the months-long application process. It can take as long as 10 months to a year to get a decision on your reconsideration alone.

How do I improve my chances of winning an appeal?

You can improve your odds of winning your appeal by making your case as clear as possible. These two measures help with that process:

Get a lawyer

Hiring a lawyer is one of the best measures you can take to improve your odds of getting benefits.

Your chances of winning a disability hearing with a lawyer are three times higher than without one. Eighty-three percent of applicants have legal representation by the hearing stage.

A lawyer can help you throughout the entire appeal process.

During the reconsideration stage, they’ll file your paperwork. Even if that reconsideration gets rejected, you’ll have the evidence on hand to make your hearing case stronger.

Then, when your hearing comes around, they’ll represent you in court. Your lawyer will work with you to get ready for your hearing and use their legal knowledge to make the best case possible for you.

Answer questions accurately

You have a part to play in the hearing, too. The judge will ask you questions about your ability to work and your condition, and you’ll have a better chance if you give correct and concise answers.

Some of this advice goes back to finding a good lawyer. Your lawyer will tell you what kinds of questions to expect and coach you through the process.

Where can I find a good disability lawyer?

If you want to maximize your likelihood of a successful appeal, you'll want to hire a lawyer.

Atticus makes it easy to find legal representation. Talk to one of our representatives, and they’ll match you with the right lawyer for your case.

Work with Atticus today for free.

Get personalized advice on how to win your appeal. Talk with our team today.
Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie 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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