Some clients tell me right off the bat that they know SSA will deny them several times and they understand they have a long fight ahead of them. Other times, we receive teary calls from clients who received a denial and cannot understand why SSA doesn’t believe them. It is better to begin the process with realistic expectations. Unless you are over 55 with only physical past work and physical limitations that can be seen through objective testing, you likely have a long fight ahead of you.
Award rates vary slightly from year to year, but the truth is that if you are younger, have worked in a sedentary job, or have subjective issues such as depression or pain caused by your physical conditions, you will be going to a hearing and the process is going to take a year or longer.
In 2015, SS reports only 33% of people applying for SS disability benefits were awarded at the initial level. That’s 33% of the 2.7 million applicants who filed their claim in 2015. The next level of appeal is even lower, only 12% of the 67% who received a denial were able to get a different decision at the reconsideration level, leaving 88% of those to file a request for hearing. At hearing, you have the best chance, with a 45% allowance rate at this level. Still not stellar, but statistically, the hearing level is your best chance to get a favorable disability ruling.
After hearing, award rates drop dramatically. The Appeals Council reviews Hearing decisions to see if the Judge made any legal errors. In 2015, they agreed there was legal error in only 13% of the cases appealed to them and allowed (awarded) only 1%. For reference, 149 thousand cases were appealed to this level in 2015.
So now that you know what to expect, when do you get an attorney? As soon as possible! I get calls all the time for help at the Appeals Council level, and I can do my best, but the odds are not good. It is much better to seek an attorney’s assistance either before you file or after your first denial so that they can help you while the odds are still in your favor.