Most applications for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) are initially denied. But your odds get better as your application works its way through the appeals process. (Most claims have their best odds at the "ALJ hearing" level.)
While there's no surefire way to win a disability appeal, there are several things you can do to help your chances.
First, read up on how the appeals process works. Then, consider the following tips.
After every decision, the Social Security Administration (SSA) gives you only 60 days to submit your appeal in writing. If you wait more than 60 days to request an appeal, your appeal will probably be dismissed.
At the first three levels of appeal, you must file your appeal online or by submitting specific forms. The three appeal levels are:
You can find the forms you'll need for each on the SSA website or at your local Social Security office.
If you miss an appeal deadline, you'll have to request an extension in writing. The SSA must review your request, but they don't have to agree to an extension. So, it's better to get your appeal forms in on time.
The Social Security forms for appealing a decision (either Request for Reconsideration or Request for Hearing) give you only a few lines to write your explanation of why you think the decision was wrong. But you should feel free to write the phrase "see attached page" on the form and submit a letter along with the form that carefully outlines the problems you see with the decision.
The letter you received from the SSA that denied your eligibility for benefits will include an "explanation of determination," which is sometimes called the "disability determination rationale." This explanation of determination will include issues such as:
If anything's incorrect or missing in your explanation of determination, include this in your appeals letter to the SSA. Also, submit:
For more on appeals letters, see How to Write a Successful Disability Appeal Letter.
You'll also need to submit the "Disability Report - Appeal" form to report changes in your condition and any additional treatment you've had or doctors you've seen. Here's an example.
You can fill out the appeal forms on paper and mail them to the SSA or file your appeal online. The online appeal application is an option—even if you didn't initially apply online for disability benefits.
It doesn't take long to complete the online appeal request, and you'll have plenty of room to state why you disagree with Social Security's decision without the need for a separate appeal letter. If you submit your appeal request online, you'll also need to submit the Disability Report - Appeal online, which can take a bit longer. If you have documents to support your appeal (like the results of an MRI or a doctor's statement), you can upload the new documents electronically.
You don't have to finish filing your appeal in one online session. You can save your work as you go (request a "re-entry number" so you can log back in to finish later).
You should ask your doctor for a supportive statement detailing what you can and can't do and how your condition prevents you from working. These types of statements might have little effect on a Social Security disability or SSI disability claim at the initial claim or first appeal level ("reconsideration"). But at the disability hearing level, such statements can actually win your case—if they're strong enough and they're backed up by objective medical evidence contained in the same doctor's office notes.
If your doctor supports you and is willing to complete an eight-page form, have your doctor fill out the SSA's RFC assessment form. The form details your "residual functional capacity" (RFC).
If your doctor isn't as helpful as you'd like, see Filing for Disability Without a Doctor's Support or Approval.
You should be completely honest at any level of the claims process when giving information about your impairments and the limitations your impairments cause. This isn't the time to try to put on a brave face, so don't hold back.
For example, some people might be embarrassed to disclose their psychiatric problems, but those impairments need to be considered, as they could affect your disability determination. While you shouldn't be melodramatic and exaggerate your issues, don't be ashamed to admit the difficulties your impairments are causing you.
The disability appeals process can be complicated and sometimes confusing. You have the right to hire someone—either a disability lawyer or a nonlawyer representative—to help you with your claim and appeal, and it's common for people to do so.
While it's possible to win a disability appeals case on your own (if you have a strong medical case), you're more likely to be successful with your claim if you have an expert representing you through this process.
Learn more about finding a good disability lawyer to help you with your claim.
Need a lawyer? Start here.