Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

Disability Advice Tips

How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

How to file Appeals

Disability through SSA

SSI Disability Benefits

Disability for Children

How do I qualify for it?

Working and Disability

Disability Award Notice

Disability Lawyer Q&A

Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

Your Medical Evidence

Filing for your Disability

Disability Eligibility

SSD SSI Definitions

Recent Questions

SSDRC Disability Blog

Who handles my case if I apply for Social Security disability?

Your disability case will be handled by several people during the Social Security disability process. When you file your disability claim, a Social Security claims representative (CR) completes your Social Security and/or SSI disability application. They get your medical information including your physicians’ names, addresses, phone numbers, your medical treatment dates, the medications you are taking, and the testing you have had.

In addition to medical information, Social Security needs information about the types of work you performed in the fifteen years prior to filing for disability. Social Security uses your work and medical information to complete the necessary disability forms. Once the claims representative at the Social Security Field Office finishes your disability folder, they forward your disability case to a state agency responsible for making Social Security disability determinations. This is where the actual evaluation of your claim begins.

DDS and the Disability Examiner

When your disability case arrives at the state disability agency (DDS or disability determination services), it is assigned to a disability examiner, a case-processing specialist who has been trained to evaluate medical records, work histories, and consider them in the context of Social Security rules as well as Social Security Regulations.

The disability examiner is responsible for acquiring medical records from the medical sources you provided at your disability interview, scheduling any needed consultative examinations, and making a disability determination on your disability case. This means that your disability case will most likely be handled by state disability agency physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists as well as medical professionals outside the disability agency should your disability case require a consultative examination.

Once the disability examiner gets enough information (and this usually means medical record documentation, though in some cases they will be required to more thoroughly research a claimant's work history), they make a decision on your disability case. Following this decision, you will receive a formal decisional notice in the mail.

Getting denied and filing the first appeal

If your disability case is denied at the initial claim, or disability application level, and you feel you are still disabled, you must file an appeal to continue your disability case. Your first appeal is a reconsideration appeal, more formally known as a Request for Reconsideration.

Reconsideration appeals are sent back to the same state disability agency for a review of your initial disability case decision. The only difference being, another disability examiner makes the decision on your reconsideration. Unfortunately, not many initial disability claim decisions are overturned at the reconsideration appeal. In most states, an even higher percentage of reconsideration requests are denied than disability applications. (see Social Security Disability, SSI Decisions – What Is the Rate of Approval?).

The second appeal - Hearing before an ALJ, Administrative Law Judge

If your reconsideration appeal is denied, you have no choice but to file a request for a disability hearing in order to pursue your claim. Many claimants make the mistake of giving up on their claim following the denial of a disability application or the denial of a reconsideration request. However, this is a distinct mistake since the likelihood of approval increases substantially at an ALJ hearing, particularly for claimants who have representation.

Your request for an administrative Law judge hearing is submitted to the Social Security office where you initially filed your claim. From there, it is transferred to the hearing office, known as the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. The hearing, of course, is handled by an administrative law judge. In principle, the ALJ performs the same function as the disability examiner. The ALJ will review the medical records and the work history. The ALJ will also review the past decisions of the case as well as all the information that was previously created during the application and reconsideration phases.

Unlike the disability examiners who adjudicated the claim at the earlier levels, however, the administrative law judge will not gather medical records or other evidence to support your case. This is because while the judge is a decision-maker, the judge is essentially reviewing the prior decisions on your claim for error. The judge will, of course, review any additional records that are entered into the case, but obtaining these records will be the responsibility of the claimant or the claimant's disability attorney.

The importance of getting evidence gathered before a hearing

An Administrative law judge (or disability examiner, for that matter) will only be able to approve a claim if A) the available medical evidence demonstrates that the claimant has physical and/or mental limitations that render them incapable of working and earning a substantial and gainful income and B) at least some of their medical evidence is recent, meaning not older than 90 days.

While older medical records may be essential for demonstrating the progression of a claimant's illness, or the ways in which it satisfies the criteria of a disability listing, and especially how far back the condition began (for the sake of determining how much back pay the claimant may be owed), the qualifications for disability, as set forth by the Social Security Administration, dictate that a claimant must submit recent evidence.

The issue of needing recent medical evidence presents a problem for cases that are being heard at hearings. Why? Because the elapsed time between the denial of a claim at the reconsideration level and the holding of a disability hearing can be well over a year, meaning that by the time a hearing comes to pass there will be no recent records in the file. Therefore, it is an absolute must that continued evidence gathering must be a principal part of preparing for a disability hearing.

Beyond the disability hearing level

If your disability case is not approved at this level, it may be handled by an Appeals Council review, or even by a Federal Court judge should you chose to pursue your disability claim that far. Most disability applicants, however, begin the disability process again if their disability case is denied at their disability hearing or the Appeal Council review level.

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

Should you Look at the Disability File that Social Security has on You?
How do I apply for a Social Security disability widow’s claim?
Who handles my case if I apply for Social Security disability?
Social Security Disability Application Online
Can I apply for disability online?
Can I Collect Unemployment While I File For Disability Benefits (SSD or SSI)?
What medical conditions can you apply for disability for?
To Apply For SSI or SSD Disability Benefits, Where do I Start?
When You Apply For Disability, write Down Everything That Is Wrong With You
When I Apply For Disability, Should I List My Old Meds From Years Ago?
When I Apply for Disability - Should I apply for social Security disability or SSI?
What happens if you are working when you file for disability or work after you apply?
If Social Security Turns Down My Case Can I apply For Disability A Second Time?
How many people get approved for disability from Social Security?

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Filing for disability - How to file for SSD or SSI and the Information that is needed by Social Security
How to Apply for Disability - What medical conditions can you apply and qualify for?
Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?
What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?
How to Prove you are disabled and qualify to win disability benefits
How do you prove your disability case if you have a mental condition or impairment?
Social Security Disability Back pay and How Long it Takes to Qualify for it and receive it
Social Security Disability SSI - Eligibility Requirements and Qualifications Criteria