There are several levels of appeal in SS Disability claims.
At the initial and reconsideration levels, the decision is made by a disability examiner in your state. Their job is to collect medical records, send you questionnaires to gather additional information, and sometimes, even send you to an independent doctor to gather information they do not see in your medical records. The majority of claims are turned down at these two levels.
The third level of Appeal is the Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Although award rates at this level vary by region and by presiding Judge, the average approval rate is 50% – 60% at this level. This is the level you most desperately need to have an attorney assisting you. This is your final chance to prove your disability claim to SSA.
If you are denied at hearing, the next level of Appeal is the Appeals Council. The only issues the Appeals Council consider are legal errors made by the Judge. They do not re-evaluate your claim to see whether or not you are disabled. Many people call me at this level, but it is many times too late to help. The remand rate (when the AC agrees legal errors were made which affected the outcome) is only around 25%.
Finally, a handful of cases can be appealed to District Court if the AC denies the Request for Review. District Court does not have jurisdiction over SSA, but their, “advisory opinions” are heeded by SSA. However, they hear very few of these cases and the cases that are successful at this level are extremely egregious.