What are the chances of getting approved for disability at each level?

The statistical information on Social Security Disability approvals and denials tends to change a bit with regard to two considerations: time and location.

Related: The rate of approval for Social Security Disability and SSI decisions.

With regard to location, the approval and denial rates will differ from state to state (the social security administration's disability claim system is federal, yet you see noteworthy differences in outcome when comparing individual states, particularly "red" versus "blue" states).

With regard to time, its sufficient to say that the average national statistics change a bit over time. However, it's also safe to say that they don't change that much and so we can somewhat reliably continue to state that, on average, about one-third of all those who apply for disability will be approved for disability benefits at the initial claim level (the application for disability).

At the first appeal level, the request for reconsideration, about fifteen percent will be approved. And at the disability hearing level, roughly half will be approved; more specifically about forty percent who are not represented at the hearing will be approved and about sixty percent who are represented by a disability attorney or a non-attorney claimant's representative will be approved.

How does all of this translate? Let's construct a simple example. The example will, of course, rely on certain assumptions: that all denied claimants will decide to file the appeals they are eligible for and that no one will file a brand new claim in the mistaken assumption that this is the same thing as filing an appeal (sad, but it happens all the time).

1. 100 people apply for disability.

2. If 35 percent are approved at the initial claim level, then 35 of these individuals will be approved and 65 will be denied.

3. If the 65 who were denied decide to file their first appeal, a request for reconsideration, then approximately 10 of these individuals will be approved.

* At this point, the total of individuals, from the group of 100, that have been approved, numbers 45.

4. If the remaining 55 who were denied on a reconsideration appeal (65-10=55) decide to file their next appeal, the request for hearing before an administrative law judge, then manage to wait for their hearing to be scheduled, and then show up for the hearing (again, you'd be amazed at how many individuals do not show up for their hearing after waiting so long for one to be scheduled), then either 22 or 33 more individuals will be approved.

22 is the number of individuals who would be be approved if they went to their hearing without representation. 33 is the number of individuals who would be approved if they went to their hearing with representation (according to a federal statistic from recent years, claimants represented at hearings had a 62% percent likelihood of being approved for disability at a hearing if they had representation, which also translated to a fifty percent increased chance of being approved at a hearing if they had representation versus going to the hearing alone).

5. Add up the numbers and you get the following: of the original 100 applicants for disability, as many as 67 individuals were approved for disability. If you assume that everyone who went to a hearing had representation, then as many as 78 out of the original 100 applicants were approved for disability.

Now, is this example true to life? Not really. Why? Because some claimants give up along the way and do not file their appeals, some continually file new claims instead of filing appeals, some miss filing deadlines, some fail to show for their hearings, and some decide to "go it alone" at a hearing versus getting representation.

However, it does illustrate this one fact: if you get denied for disability, you stand an excellent chance of eventually being approved if you simply do not give up, i.e. you file your appeals and go to your disability hearing prepared.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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