Social Security’s Stages of Review

Generally, most individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits will likely go through three stages of review.  If after the third stage of review, a judge decides that an individual is not disabled, that individual may appeal to the Appeals Council.  The first three stages of review are discussed below.

1. Initial Application – At this stage, an individual will file their initial claim with a local social security field office.  The claim is then sent to a state agency called Disability Determination Services (commonly referred to as DDS) where it is then reviewed by an examiner. The examiner will review any available medical evidence and make a decision as to whether or not the individual is disabled.

2. Reconsideration Appeal – If an individual’s initial application is denied, he/she may appeal that initial decision. This level of review is commonly referred to as Reconsideration. Once again, the appeal is filed with a local social security office and then the claim is reviewed by an examiner at DDS, although it will be a different examiner than the first one.

3. Disability Hearing – If an individual’s reconsideration appeal is denied, he/she may file a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge is not bound by the previous decisions and makes his or her own independent determination regarding an individual’s allegations of disability.  Typically, individuals have a better chance of winning at this stage.

As previously mentioned, an individual may appeal to the Appeals Council if a judge denies their request for a hearing and finds them able to work.  Furthermore, he/she may file a federal suit against the Commissioner of Social Security if the Appeals Council dismissed the appeal.  However, the priority for most claimants is to get their case awarded at one of the first three stages.