Successfully Applying for Disability Benefits in Alabama

Applying for Disability in Alabama

How to apply and qualify for SSD, SSI in Alabama (AL)

Note: If you have already filed a claim and been denied for disability, or are wondering what to do in the event of a Social Security denial, proceed to the reconsideration and hearing appeal sections below.

Level I: Disability Application - Individuals applying for disability in Alabama will typically begin by contacting a local Social Security Office and starting an initial claim. This is the level where all claims begin.

At the disability application interview conducted by a Social Security CR, or claims rep, the primary focus will be on the claimant providing information regarding their medical treatment history, work history, and activities of daily living.

However, though disability claims are initiated at local field offices, decisions for disability applications and first appeals (the request for reconsideration) are made at a separate state-level agency known as DDS, or disability determination services.

At DDS, disability examiners, also referred to as specialists, handle the task of making decisions on cases that may be based on medical evidence alone, or based on medical as well as vocational (i.e. work history) information.

How to qualify for disability in Alabama

At all levels of the system, the qualifications process is the same, meaning that, to qualify for disability benefits under either the title 2 SSD or title 16 SSI program, a claimant's case will need to demonstrate that they satisfy the Social Security Administration definition of disability.

The SSA definition of disability maintains that an individual must have one or more severe impairments that prevent the ability to engage in substantial and gainful work activity for at least one full year.

Cases in which an individual has a disabling impairment which prevents substantial and gainful activity but which lasts less than a full year will be denied on the basis of duration.

As the Social Security Disability and SSI programs are federally mandated, the mechanisms for approval are the same in Alabama as in all other states. Claimants may meet the qualifications for disability in two separate ways.

The first means of being approved is by satisfing the requirements of a listing. Listings are included in the Social Security List of impairments, which in printed form was known as the blue book. Listings provide specific medical approval criteria for specific medical conditions.

Note: Not all physical and mental conditions are included in the listings. Furthermore, the majority of claims that are approved are not approved on the basis of a listing.

Most approvals for disability benefits are made on the basis of a medical vocational allowance. This is a type of approval in which the claimant's medical records are analyzed to determine what types of functional limitations exist. These functional limitations are reflected in an RFC, or residual functional capacity assessment.

The RFC assessment is basically a rating of what a person is still functionally capable of doing. The RFC is compared to the demands of the claimant's past work so that Social Security can determine two things:
  • Is the individual capable of returning to their past work?
  • Is the individual capable of doing some type of other work?
If the answer to both questions is no, the claimant will meet the medical qualifications for disability.

The odds of qualifying for disability in Alabama

Disability applications in Alabama have a rate of approval that is consistent with the national average over the past decade. Approximately one-third of all claims will be approved at the initial claim, or disability application, level. Conversely, approximately 70 percent of claims will be denied at this level as well.

Because the majority of cases are denied, claimants who do not qualify for disability in Alabama at this level will ordinarily need to pursue the appeals process. For most individuals, the appeals process will involve a request for reconsideration appeal and, usually also, a request for a hearing before a Social Security judge, i.e, an ALJ, or administrative law judge.

  • Disability application denial rate: 70.5 percent.
  • Disability application approval rate: 29.5 percent.

    Level II: Request for Reconsideration - This is the first appeal level for disability claims in Alabama. The qualification process is unchanged at this level.

    As with the initial claim, or disability application, level, a claimant may be approved on the basis of satisfying a listing, or on the basis of being unable to return to their past work in addition to lacking the ability to switch to some form of other work. As the statistics indicate, reconsiderations have a fairly high rate of denial in Alabama, though the chances of being denied on a reconsideration appeal are very consistent with the country at large.

    Reconsiderations are processed by disability examiners in exactly the same manner as disability applications. However, decisions on reconsideration appeals can often be made much faster because the reconsideration process ordinarily occurs within just a few weeks of the disability application process (meaning much of the development work has already been performed).

    Note: The Reconsideration appeal is currently not being conducted in the state of Alabama. It has been conjectured that the reconsideration appeal may return; however, presently, individuals who have been denied on a disability application may immediately file a request for a hearing.

  • Reconsideration appeal denial rate: 86 percent.
  • Reconsideration appeal approval rate: 14 percent.

    Level III: Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge - The ALJ hearing is the second appeal level in Alabama and it is at this level that claimants will ordinarily have their best chance of being approved for benefits. Studies consistently show that hearings have a higher likelihood of being approved when a claimant is represented, versus a claimant who elects to arrive at a hearing unrepresented.

    In cases where a claimant is not represented, they will be given the opportunity to review their case file. However, most self-represented claimants will be unaware that they should obtain a medical source statement from a treating physician to present to the presiding administrative law judge. They will likewise be unaware that the judge may elect to have expert vocational and/or medical expert witnesses appear at the hearing.

    In any event, claimants are not required to have representation for a disability hearing in Alabama. Many ALJs, however, will give most claimants the opportunity to reschedule a hearing when they arrive unrepresented so as to allow them the opportunity to present their case in the most favorable light.

  • Disability Hearing denial rate: 48.2 percent
  • Disability Hearing approval rate: 51.8 percent

    Note: Keep in mind that there are multiple hearing offices in Alabama and that the approval and denial rates listed here are averages supplied by the DIODS extract prepared by the Office of Disability Programs. The various hearings offices in Alabama actually have approval rates ranging from a low of 44.8 percent to a high of 58.1 percent.

    The Birmingham AL hearing office has an award rate of 58.1 percent; The Florence AL hearing office has an award rate of 44.8 percent, The Mobile AL hearing office has an award rate of 50.3 percent, and the Montgomery AL hearing office has an award rate of 48.4 percent.

    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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