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How to Win An SSI Appeal Step by Step

How to Win A Social Security Appeal (Step-by-Step)

If you have applied for SSI or SSDI, you probably know that for many, getting approved on your first shot is a challenge. 

Getting approved is not an impossible challenge, but the odds can be against you if you did not sufficiently prove your disability, or if you did not demonstrate how you rate social security benefits. 

If you now have, or fear that you will have a denial letter in hand, here’s a step-by-step approach to help you in appealing an SSI or SSDI denial.

 

Step 1: Create a Plan to Appeal Your SSI or SSDI Denial

If you do receive the dreaded denial letter the first thing you should do is not panic. Take a few breaths, and accept that this is not the end of the process.  Like most initial applicants, you have been denied.  However, the evidence shows that if you stick with the claim, you have a strong chance of eventually overturning the denial in appeal.

Of course, your chances of success at this point are directly related to the quality of your plan and your ability to execute it.  Or for many, to find someone who can build a plan for you and carry it out as well.  We are talking about a professional advocate or attorney.

Step 2: Retain an Attorney

Also, you can retain an attorney at almost any point during the claim or appeal process.  However, hiring an attorney early on is the more prudent approach. 

There are some reasons, a lot of reasons actually, that you would want to consider this as an option.  First being that this is one form of law that is based entirely on contingency.  If a lawyer does not win your case for you, they will not be getting paid.  Everyone then, you and the law firm, has a financial incentive, and hopefully a personal one too, to get you the benefits you need.

The second reason, and from a coldly logical perspective, a very powerful reason is that you might go through this process only once in your life.  Many of the things that will gum-up the process are avoidable.  And the un-avoidable issues can be addressed quickly and efficiently if you know they are likely to arise.  Only going through this process once, you have to learn all of this the hard way, or be extremely lucky.  Alternatively, a disability attorney goes through these processes a couple of hundred times a year (thousands of times in a career).

You can get pretty good at handling these things throughout several thousand claims. Still, for the die-hard do-it-yourself type, we will go back to the step-by-step.  Remember though; you can retain an attorney at almost any point in the process.

Step 3: File for Reconsideration

You need to know that at the point of denial the clock starts ticking.  60 days.  That’s what you have to act.  Whether that action is retaining a disability attorney or beginning the process of appeal yourself, you need to make sure you do so before 60 days is up.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to start all over again.

You can file for reconsideration a couple of ways.  One way is to file a Form SSA-561 (Request for Reconsideration).  The other is to file online at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/appeal.  The basic instructions for this process will also likely accompany your disability denial letter.

So what is a reconsideration, you ask?  It’s an independent review of the original claim by someone who has not been a part of the original decision.  Their job is to take a look at the initial evidence submitted (by you or others) and to take into account any new evidence you might have.  This last point is something that you want to start investigating at this point too.

Step 4: Get Your Records Together

To understand the basis for your disability denial, you usually have to investigate what records the Social Security Administration considered in making their determination.  It’s very common for critical pieces of medical evidence to be absent from the disability determination records.  It may be that you, or your doctor, didn’t share specifically what was needed.  Or that there was confusion about the conditions leading to your inability to work.

Whatever the case may be, getting a copy of your records is going to be essential to re-stating, re-phrasing, and correcting your appeal claim.   Write down a list of all the doctors, therapists, support groups, or even friends who’ve helped you during the last five years.  If you can’t remember the last five years, write down what you can remember.


Tip!

Sometimes remembering when a meeting or appointment occurred can be hard. Using holidays or key dates as markers to your memory can be very helpful.

For example, if you remember you had a Dr. appointment a couple of years ago but not when thinking about what else you had to adjust to make it happen.

“I remember I had to schedule that Dr. appointment around Thanksgiving because my sister was visiting..”  <-  The appointment happened sometime before or after Thanksgiving.

It can be hard to remember all this stuff, but if we use something we’re better at remembering to act as a memory anchor, it can help.


Step 5: Start Working on Understanding Why you Were Denied

Good to go, you’re getting your records together.  This simple act is going to give you the tools to understand where your claim went sideways.  At this point, you want to work on figuring out if there was a lack of understanding on the part of the Social Security Administration, or was there a lack of evidence.  Sometimes these go together.

If it was a lack of understanding, you can start approaching the problem from the perspective that Social Security has all the evidence, they didn’t have the understanding to put it together.  Naturally, you’re the one living your life, so in many respects, you’re the only one who knows how your challenges affect your ability to work.  Not even your doctor may understand why you can’t pursue gainful activity.

This brings up a very common situation.  Although we are all the expert on what we experience, we can’t always describe it or convey it very well.  Sometimes, we lack the speaking or writing ability to describe adequately the level of impairment we are facing.  Consider trying to convey the level of your disability in various ways (recorded conversation, writing it down, pictures, etc.).

The whole point of understanding, in this step, is to put yourself in the place where you can see why your claim was denied.  If it was as we just described a lack of understanding on the part of Social Security, you can focus on making it more clear to everyone the challenges you face.  If however, your problem was a lack of evidence, you can attack that problem in a relatively straightforward approach.  Get the evidence, everywhere you can.

 

Step 6: Request an SSI Appeal Hearing (If Your Reconsideration is Denied)

No one is going to be surprised that reconsiderations often result in the same outcome as the initial claim.  You have very little time to file for reconsideration and you’re probably still trying to get a grasp on why the initial application was denied – all while the reconsideration is processing.

Let’s assume for the sake of this step-by-step approach that your reconsideration failed to overturn the initial disability denial.  At this point, you can (should) request a hearing.

A hearing is your chance to present to an administrative law judge (ALJ) your claim.  You can provide witnesses and there may also be professional witnesses present (medical or vocational experts) as well.

After the hearing, you’ll receive a determination from the judge, usually received via US Mail.

 

Step 7: Study!  Find Info to Help You Through This Process

During this whole process, you should be looking to find resources to help you out. You don’t want to be figuring this out on your own.  If you do, you’re hurting your chances, and potentially costing yourself further financial burden and stress.


Here are some resources to help you with the process:

The Appeals Process: This is a PDF from Social Security that helps you understand the process of appealing.

Disability Answers WA State: This is a Facebook page built for the community and to facilitate sharing information for those experiencing disabilities.

Lilac City Law Blog: Shameless plug here, but we’re genuinely trying to provide as much information as possible for those working through the disability claims process.  And for those that need the help, we ensure that too.

Social Security Disability Resource Center: An incredible, free resource, compiled by a former disability claims examiner.  The goal is to inform applicants about the Social Security Disability and SSI claims & appeals process.

Our Lilac City Law Ultimate Disability Guide: A free resource that breaks down the basics in an easy to read & portable format.  

4 Biggest Myths About Social Security E-Book: Get to know how & why this process is confusing.  And best of all, what you can do to find success in your claim!

Step 8: Work on Centering Yourself

This step is about self-care.  In truth, this process is slow, it is stressful, and it doesn’t always result in the correct decision.  Sometimes you need to go through it more than once, and sometimes you need to appeal to a higher authority.  Regardless of where you fall in this whole mess, having a sense of urgency is going to result in you potentially harming your mental health.  The system won’t go faster, unfortunately.

Consider, joining a support group on Facebook (you can even join our Facebook page and share your questions & frustrations there).    Other things to consider is making sure your close family or friends know what that you’re pursuing this.  While this might be something you want to keep to yourself, you very easily could end up needing some moral support during the appeal process.  It’s not usually easy.

And, the last point on this, don’t discount the value of a good therapist — someone who can help you to stay confident and centered during the appeal.

 

Step 9: After the SSI Appeal Hearing

Well, one way or another, you’re going to get a decision.  It may be great – “your claim has been approved, and here’s the expected back-pay amount.”  Or it may feel like Groundhog’s day, yet another denial.  If you’re denied at the hearing level, is it the end?  No.

You can keep going; you have the option of asking for a review by the Social Security Appeals Council.  At this point, though, some requests are denied.  Meaning, you may not be given a review by the Appeals Council.  If the Appeals Council denies the review, you’ll receive a letter as to why you remain denied. You can either re-file for disability at this point (yes back to the beginning, sorry) or you can file

If the Appeals Council grants a review, they may review themselves or send it to back to an ALJ (judge) for review.

At this point, if you disagree with an Appeals Council decision, or if they decided not to review the claim, you can file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

This will all be laid out in the decision letters you receive at each stage of the process.

 

Step 10: Keep At It! Never Give Up on Your SSI or SSDI Appeal

The best thing you can do to eventually get the decision you’re looking for is to stick with your claim!  Keep at it.  Don’t miss deadlines, and reach out for help when you need it.  Or even before you need it.  Do your best to be pro-active.  And try as best you can to stay patient and stay centered.

We are here to help you with your disability appeal. Contact us by filling out the form below and we’ll get back to you asap!

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    Randi L. Johnson, Lilac City Law, Estate Planning, Social Security Disability, VA Disability

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      The knowledge, compassion, and attention to detail are only a few of the reasons I love Lilac City Law. We had previously done a will that was basically fill in the blanks. Our experience at Lilac City Law was so different than our fill in the blank experience. Death isn't always easy to talk about, but it was made easier because of Randi and her staff. We were walked through the whole process, and if we had any questions, they were right there to answer them. With care and compassion. Thanks so much LCL!
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      I highly recommend everyone at Lilac City Law. They helped me through every step of the SSDI process. Thank you so much!!
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      I don’t know really where to start in order to cover the magnitude of professionalism, understanding, persistence and compassion Lilac City law showed me. From Randi to each one of her staff-they worked very hard on my case and pushed me to keep fighting in the midst of several set backs from disability. They were always atop of communicating with me and all others involved. I highly recommend them and not just because I received a favorable decision but because of the plan they executed; so even if the results were unfavorable-I would still not hesitate knowing I chose the right practice. Thank you for you compassion and patience😊
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      I wholeheartedly recommend these people. I had a crazy case and at times I was a mess. My team, Randy, Pam, David, and, Marissa always treated me with kindness and compassion. Thank you guys so much for the huge difference you've made in my life.
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      I had my hearing yesterday for Social Security Disability. I was very nervous , but we won my case. Randy and the whole team at Lilac Law was very supportive and understanding! They truly want to help people win the benefits they deserve and I highly recommend them!
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      The staff is so great, it was really great to work with them all, and they were able to help me tremendously! Thank you for a great experience!
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      Don't remember exactly when I first met with them, but they were absolutely amazing to work with and only took a few months for my disability claim to be approved.I highly recommend Lilac City Law.
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      17:46 06 Jan 20
      Everyone needs to take care of their estate and make sure their family is well taken care of. Randi and her team will take very good care of you and protect you and your family’s future. You cannot go wrong using their services. Client service is their top priority!
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      Randi is a terrific lawyer and a terrific person. I wish we lived closer so that we could work with clients together more often.
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      Excellent firm. They really care about their clients. You cannot go wrong with Randi and her team.
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      What a great place! Thanks again!
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      Randi and her Team helped me through my disability claim and they were there through every question I had. Great Customer Service! Timely returned calls and emails, very knowledgeable and helpful the entire time and even afterwards! Will definitely be working with Randi and her Team in the future!
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      17:02 21 Aug 19
      Wow, these guys were so nice and easy to work with. It ended up that they couldn’t help us with what we needed, but the gentleman we worked with went above and beyond my expectations, and more. I could tell that they really care about people there, not just cases. He was super patient in explaining things to me when I didn’t understand, it wasn’t a stressful experience as I thought it would be. Thanks for everything guys!
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      06:09 21 Aug 19
      Lilac City Law is an incredible firm! I had the pleasure of working with the amazing team at Lilac City Law for nearly 2 years. Their team is absolutely remarkable! They are extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and overall compassionate when it comes to working with their clients. I sought their assistance nearly 2 years ago and have continued to work with them. I had a great deal of interaction with more than just one member of the Lilac City Law team and therefore can attest to the fact that this group of individuals is absolutely unparalleled. Attorney, Randi Johnson, is an exceptionally skilled lawyer as well as an overall remarkable woman! Her support staff is incredible as well, including Cassandra, Pam, Marissa, David, etc. with all of them by your side you have been blessed and are going to receive the best results possible. I would absolutely recommend seeking assistance from this law firm, as they have the ability to change lives; they definitely did mine. Thank you all so, so much!
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      17:03 22 May 19
      Lilac City Law went above and beyond to help my partner get her SSI. My partner had been trying to win for 12 years and finally won. We can't say thank you enough. Thank You Randi and team for all you have done.
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      21:33 29 Apr 19
      Randi and team are amazing! We previously had our will and other documents prepared by another firm in the Seattle area where we are from. I met with Randi to update areas of my trust and was soooooo impressed with how much more she provides than the firm who first helped me. I love the short term care directive that she provides and think it is amazingly thoughtful!! Thank you so much Randi Johnson!!
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      I had a great experience with Randi and her team this past year when we worked with them to create our first-ever wills and trust. Planning for your untimely death and discussing personal finances aren't always fun topics, but we were appreciative of Randi's approach to these potentially uncomfortable conversations and especially liked the recorded legacy interview she conducted with us. Total 5-star experience!
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      I had a great experience with Randi and her team this past year when we worked with them to create our first-ever wills and trust. Planning for your untimely death and discussing personal finances aren't always fun topics, but we were appreciative of Randi's approach to these potentially uncomfortable conversations and especially liked the recorded legacy interview she conducted with us. Total 5-star experience!
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      My husband and I worked with Randi and her team to complete our last will and testament, advanced directive, and health care proxy in the summer of 2018. Randi, and her team, as well as David Morris, were exceptionally kind, very professional, and thorough. We had several meetings to go through the important stuff - the financial info, heirlooms, and disposition of my husband's motorcycle. At each meeting, Randi and her team listened to our intentions and concerns. At the signing ceremony, we got a huge binder with our info and a data stick for safekeeping. Included in our will is a review which will take place every other year. We also got a document which states who can take our children to give our babysitter in case something bad happens to us when we were out. I'm very satisfied with Lilac City Law, and their work. I would recommend them without qualification to anyone.
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      Parents are so intentional about so many aspects of their children's lives. Few will forgo putting together a will. But, what if you don't die? What if you are just incapacitated? Are you prepared for the unexpected? Are you leaving your children at risk? If someone else does raise them, do you know that they will be raised according to your wishes? Have you even thought through what your wishes are? All these questions and more will be covered in the process of completing a Family Protection Plan with Randi Johnson at Lilac City Law. Having our Family Protection Plan in place gives me an incredible sense of comfort and peace of mind. I highly recommend Randi and the staff at Lilac City Law. Hopefully you never need her services, but isn't it better to be prepared than to leave things to chance?
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      03:16 22 Jan 19
      My Husband and I were fortunate to work with Randi on his disability case-she mindfully guided us through that process -we were so pleased with the results that Lilac City Law was of course our choice to have when producing our family trust. Again a very professional, heartfelt experience that made what seems to be a difficult process very easy thanks to Randi and her staff. We always recommend Randi to our community of friends and family. Pat and Patty Murphy
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      I became ill over two years ago now,at the age of 29.. I experienced seizure like movements that lasted for hours or even days at a time. The doctors were at a loss for a diagnosis so they called it a mental disorder. As I was unable to care for myself most days or work, I applied for social security and was denied. I sought the help of Lilac City Law, and was immediately greeted with compassion and action. My case was a hard one to win or prove. Amy Santa helped me and explained everything to me step by step.. She ALWAYS answered my questions and showed immense sympathy for all I was going through. My case went to trial and Amy was amazing in court and won me the benefits I so desperately needed. This process was so difficult and overwhelming on my own.. I couldn’t have done it without these amazing people and thanks to them I can focus on improving my health,and not worry about my family struggling. I’m thankful and very blessed to have had them on my side! Sincerely, Ashley Schauble
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      Lilac City Law did an amazing job with my estate plan, which was something I had 'thought' about doing for a long time, but avoided... Fortunately, Randi and her team made the process very easy and approachable. I now feel relief knowing everything is in order for my two daughters in the (hopefully unlikely!) event something were to happen to me. Thank you Lilac City Law for helping me sleep better at night! :)
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      03:30 09 Jan 19
      This has been an awesome experience from beginning to end. Randi and her team were super helpful in helping us wrestle through all the aspects of our estate plan. Randi’s knowledge of estate and wills were very obvious from the beginning and we are thankful for her and her staffs expertise. Thank you so much!
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      17:22 12 Dec 18
      This firm is the go-to for family planning and protection your children. Randi and her team are excellent!
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      I needed to get my husband's advanced health directive for a procedure he was having and it was so easy to find in our perfectly tabbed out legal binder. I found it right away, made a copy and stored it right back in the binder. Thanks for making us get it, and for making it easy to find and understand.
      Jessica Gruver Koefod
      Jessica Gruver Koefod
      19:40 12 Oct 18
      I highly recommend this law firm. They have the experience and skills to help people with their plans and their future. From their work with others, they take a pragmatic approach to law and don't over complicate things unnecessarily. With that said, if a matter is complex they are very capable of handling it.
      Christine Matus
      Christine Matus
      09:29 05 Sep 18
      Randi demonstrates a beautiful balance of expertise and compassion while dealing with difficult circumstances. I'm very thankful we had her in our corner! I can't reccomend her strongly enough.
      Darin Pike
      Darin Pike
      16:47 25 Jul 18
      Randi and her staff are the best! They help you with your case and are there if you have any questions.I highly recommend them!
      Tammy Reedy
      Tammy Reedy
      21:56 18 Jul 18
      Randi did a wonderful job of asking simple questions to help us determine exactly what type of trust we needed to match our goals. Thank you so much, Randi, for taking time out of your busy schedule to get us were we need to be!
      Michelle Darnell
      Michelle Darnell
      02:52 17 Jun 18
      Such a great meeting today with Randi. Tell me who wants to talk about wills and final arrangements, right? Well, my husband and I did this today and Randi, you made it easier than we expected. What a blessing to work with such talent and know you have our backs. Between you and Cary Wong. We will be sitting pretty, no matter what life brings us. THANK YOU!
      Missy Schaaf
      Missy Schaaf
      01:20 31 Mar 18
      Vincent Adolph
      Vincent Adolph
      13:30 26 Feb 18
      Randi and her staff are great to work with - no surprises, and she made it all so easy. Now we have a will and health directives, so our children won't be burdened when the time comes. I highly recommend!
      Sharon Robertson
      Sharon Robertson
      18:04 05 Feb 18
      Randi and her team do amazing work. Thank you very much for what you do.
      Erin Whitney-Neher
      Erin Whitney-Neher
      20:18 23 Jan 18
      Randi are her staff are amazing! They are all very knowledgable, helpful and passionate about serving others. Every step of services are explained clearly and follow-up exceeded expectations. In addition, Randi is active in the community and regularly volunteers her time and talents putting on presentations focusing on educating others on specific topics. She has a passion for assisting those with special needs or situations. For legal assistance with heart, Lilac City Law is highly recommended!
      Nadine Burgess
      Nadine Burgess
      18:14 25 Apr 17
      Excellent staff. Very knowledgeable and go out of their way to get the job done! Would recommend to anyone looking for services they offer!
      Jason Spade
      Jason Spade
      02:17 19 Oct 16
      Randi was an excellent attorney. Her staff was excellent as well. I was treated with kindness, compassion and dedication towards winning my complex and difficult case, which ultimately happened. I am very happy that I chose Lilac City Law to represent me. I would highly recommend them!!!
      Richard D. Seibert
      Richard D. Seibert
      15:56 03 Oct 16
      Melanie Jason Carter
      Melanie Jason Carter
      06:46 01 Sep 16
      Mia Martinez-Bermudez
      Mia Martinez-Bermudez
      04:22 30 Jul 16

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