Every applicant whose disability claim has been denied by the Social Security Administration (SSA) has the right to appeal. But filing an appeal isn't your only option.
You could also reapply for disability by filling out a new disability application instead of appealing the original decision. Doing so would mean starting over at the initial determination stage. If your claim has been denied, but you believe you're entitled to disability benefits, which road should you take?
In the vast majority of situations, you should appeal the decision rather than start over by reapplying. The reason is simple: Statistically, your chances of being granted disability are much better at the appeal level than at the initial determination level.
Only about one-third of disability applicants are approved for benefits in the SSA's initial determination round. Because the rate of success after a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) is much higher, it makes sense to appeal instead of refiling.
If you appeal the SSA's initial determination, it's called a "reconsideration" because you're asking the SSA to reconsider its decision. Reconsideration is the first step in the appeals process.
When you submit your request for reconsideration, you should also submit any new evidence you have that wasn't submitted with your original application. The SSA will look again at all the evidence you submitted with your initial application as well any new evidence you submit with your request for reconsideration.
Be prepared for your claim to be denied at the reconsideration level. Just over 10% of disability applicants who were denied disability in their initial determination are found eligible at the reconsideration level.
The SSA claims examiner who reviews your request for reconsideration won't be the same examiner who was involved in your initial decision. Still, unless the original examiner didn't follow the SSA's rules in making the initial determination, the chances are low that it will be reversed.
Even if your claim is denied at the first level of appeals (reconsideration), don't give up! The next appeals level is where you have the greatest chance of being found eligible for disability benefits. This second level of appeal is an ALJ hearing.
If you have any new evidence, you should try to submit it with your request for a hearing. You can also present new evidence at the ALJ hearing itself if you don't have a lawyer. On average, ALJ hearings result in about half of applicants being awarded benefits. (Approval rates for applicants who are represented by disability lawyers are even higher.)
It's very helpful to have a disability lawyer or nonlawyer representative who knows the ins and outs of the SSA appeals process. While you don't need to have a representative at your hearing, it's a good idea. Many communities have attorneys or other representatives you can work with through legal aid services to help you get the benefits you're eligible for.
The only time it makes sense to reapply is if you've missed the deadline for appealing a decision and aren't granted an extension. But keep in mind that if nothing about your medical condition or your medical records has changed, there's little chance you'll be found eligible the second time you go through the initial determination process.
The odds are against you because the SSA will be looking at the same records, using the same guidelines, and it's unlikely you'll be found eligible if you weren't the first time. However, it's not impossible.
If your medical condition has worsened, you could be found eligible the second time around. And even if your claim is again denied, you still have the right to appeal.
The Social Security disability claims process can be long and frustrating, and the outcome can be unpredictable. But you can improve your chances of initial approval or winning an ALJ hearing by getting help with your claim.
A Social Security lawyer or disability advocate will understand the complexities of the claims and appeals processes and how best to present your claim. Best of all, SSDI attorneys and advocates collect a one-time fee for their services, but only if they win your claim.
Updated April 25, 2022