If you are in the process of applying for disability benefits or have recently applied for SSDI or SSI, it’s important to know the status of your disability claim as it makes its way through the system. No one wants to be disabled and unable to work, but millions of Americans find themselves in need of financial assistance due to a physical or psychological issue that limits their ability to work or prevents them from holding down a job altogether. Thankfully, there are government programs that provide financial assistance to those who suffer from one or more physical or psychological conditions that interfere with their ability to maintain gainful employment.
SSDI vs. SSI
Social Security Disability Insurance is a payroll tax-funded federal insurance program of the United States government managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA); SSDI is designed to provide income supplements to people who are “physically restricted in their ability to be employed because of a notable disability.”
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues and is designed to help blind, aged, and disabled people with little or no income by providing cash to meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter.
Filing for disability benefits is not easy, and for this reason, many people seek the guidance of an experienced Social Security disability attorney from the outset. Most people will tell you that the sooner you get help from a knowledgeable disability attorney, the better off you will be. However, many people wait until they have been denied benefits once, twice, or even three times before hiring a disability benefits lawyer.
It’s your choice when to seek legal advice, but the sooner you do so, the more likely you are to be approved for and receive benefits in a timely manner. Keep in mind that there are no guarantees when it comes to these government programs. Hiring a lawyer will not guarantee you receive benefits, but it will certainly help you because all of the paperwork to apply for benefits will be done correctly and on time.
Checking the Status of Your Claim
Every stage of the SSD process has its own set of rules and its own adjudicator. The person or people reviewing your initial claim will not be the same people who will review an appeal down the road, if that becomes necessary. For this reason, it’s important to check the status of your claim throughout the time the claim is active.
Stage 1 Initial Application
After the initial claim is submitted, you will want to check on it frequently to know if it has been “stalled” for any reason. If it’s stalled, you will learn the reason for the delay during this early stage. You can check your initial claim status by calling your local Social Security Administration office or by contacting the disability examiner assigned to your case. You may also check your claim status online if you filed the initial claim on the SSA’s website.
Once your disability claim is forwarded to Disability Determination Services (DDS), a claims examiner will be assigned; you should get a phone call and receive paperwork when this happens.
Stage 2 Reconsideration of a Claim
In most states, the first step in appealing a denied disability claim is to request a reconsideration of the claim. You will submit what’s called a “reconsideration request” form, and after that, you can check the status of your claim by contacting your local SSA office or the disability examiner assigned to your case.
Stage 3 Appeal Hearing
To appeal a denied claim, you must request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, known as an ALJ. After submitting the required appeal forms, you can check the status of your claim and your appeal hearing date by calling your SSA office or your claims examiner if your file has not yet been transferred to the appeals office. Or you can contact the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) if your file has already been sent on for review.
You will receive a notice in the mail once your hearing date is set including the hearing arrangements and contact information, and then any future inquires should be directed to the contact listed on that notice.
Stage 4 Appeals Council Review
Most disability claims end at the ALJ hearing level, at which point most applicants receive benefits if the ALJ determines they’re eligible or the claimant stops trying to get benefits if the ALJ denies the claim.
If you request an Appeal Council Review of the ALJ’s decision, the SSA strongly recommends you hire a disability benefits attorney. Your lawyer will check the status of your claim, or you can make inquiries yourself.
Stage 5 Federal Court Appeal
Very few disability benefits applicants make it to this stage. During this last step in the appeals process, you will file a civil lawsuit against the Social Security Administration in federal court, which requires an attorney.
Checking on the status of your disability benefits application alleviates uncertainly about where your claim stands, and it also allows you (or your lawyer) to intervene as soon as something goes wrong.