One of the reasons why claimants use an experienced Social Security disability attorney to initially file for benefits is that they are uncertain in regards to what steps to actually take to not only begin the process but what occurs after doing so.
First, before we ever file online for disability benefits for a client, we ask that they review the Checklist for Online Adult Disability Application given by the Social Security Administration. It is important that each claimant be prepared to provide the necessary medical information and work history so the Administration can properly evaluate their disability claim. If a claimant fails to properly provide such information accurately, it is likely their case will receive a quick denial.
After properly preparing to provide the correct information, the true first step is to completely fill out the online disability application. Remember here, it is always best to write down your reentry number so that an incomplete application can be returned to at a later date. Further, the Administration will mail out a confirmation that the initial claim was filed and the claimant will be provided a number. He or she can check back online on the status of the case instead of having to constantly or periodically call his or her local Social Security office or attorney. Remember, this can be a long process. Hurry up and wait is pretty accurate at this stage.
After the initial filing, the claimant should expect to receive in the mail a Work History and an Adult Function Report. It cannot be stressed strongly enough to take each of these reports very serious. Please try and remember, you are not disabled because you are sick, hurt, etc. You will be found disabled if you cannot do any of the jobs you have done in the last fifteen years and you cannot adjust to some other type of work. These reports help determine whether or not you are incapable of doing either or both.
Next, if the Disability Determination Service cannot determine you have a mental or physical impairment from just your medical records alone, then a Consultative Examination will be issued and you will be required to be examined by a doctor hired by Social Security. From my experience, a "good" consultative examination often does not win a person's case, but a "bad" one sure will ensure a denial. Thus, it's always necessary to take this step in the process very serious.
After the initial filing, hopefully disability benefits will be granted. However, the more realistic answer is that the claimant has received his or her first denial and within the next 60 days there must be an appeal filed. This is called the Reconsideration phase. At this step of the process, your medical records will be reexamined and another decision will be rendered after filling yet another Adult Function Report and even maybe an additional consultative examination with another doctor. Suffice it to say, this is usually a condensed version of step one in this process. Again, may claimants are here denied as well and must then prepare to file a second appeal to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
The hearing stage before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) isusally the final step in any claimant's pursuit for disability benefits. Here, there will be an appeal filed in order to have an in-person (usually) and face-to-face determination of the disabling condition a person is alleging. To be sure, this is likely the longest part of the process. On the average, most claimants wait 14 months from the day they file before they are able to have their hearing. Patience is certainly a virtue at this stage, but any claimant waiting for a hearing should be at this point working closely with his or her attorney and concentrating on providing the best medical evidence possible. Remember, the essence of any claim's success must be based on medical evidence. Social Security states time and time again in its regulations that it will take into consideration all of the claimant's evidence, but relevant medical records must be included in the claim.
If there is a denial after the hearing, the claimant will likely need an attorney to make a proper argument before the Appeals Council. What should and should not be argued at this stage is for another discussion. However, here the claimant will find that either the ALJ is overturned or the ALJ's decision is final. Hopefully, if the initial denial for benefits is overturned, then the claimant will have his or her case remanded back to the hearing level and reheard again.
Finally, if all else fails, the claimant will have to seek redress from all of his or her denials in federal court. This is certainly an area which should be handled by an experienced Social Security disability attorney. Here, the Appeals Council denial may be overturned and the case may be remanded yet again to the ALJ to hear the case once again. However, if the federal court denies the request for review, then the case is, for the most part, complete. There is the chance of appealing a district federal court to the Court of Appeals, but the chances of winning are so slim that most attorneys refuse to even take such a case.
The moral to this story is actually quite simple: Be prepared from the very beginning and take your case seriously. Continue to seek treatment for your disabling condition and let your doctor know you are seeking disability benefits. Just taking a few simple steps could be the difference between a favorable decision and a denial.