Social Security’s Four Levels of Appeal

Under Social Security guidelines, there are generally four levels of appeal where we can help win the disability benefits you deserve.

Request for Reconsideration – If your initial application for Social Security disability benefits is denied, we can submit additional evidence by completing an Appeal Disability Report, and getting your application reviewed by someone other than the official who turned you down. Legal representation is important at this stage of appeal.

Hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) – If you were denied at the Reconsideration level, we can have your case evaluated at a hearing by an ALJ. At this point, we can present expert witnesses along with any additional medical evidence and work history. Social Security may have its own witnesses. Your lawyer can cross-examine them. The preparation of your case and your testimony is very important at an ALJ hearing.

Review by the Appeals Council – If the ALJ also denies your claim, your case is not necessarily over. Your disability lawyer may ask that your case be reviewed by Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council, located in Falls Church, Virginia, with additional offices in Baltimore. This is the last “administrative decisional” level; the Appeals Council renders the Social Security’s final decision.

The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny your request if it believes your hearing decision was correct. If the Council reviews your case, it can either grant your benefits outright or send your case back to the ALJ for further review.

United States District Court review – If the Appeals Council declines to review your case or if you and your lawyer disagree with that decision, the last step may be to file a lawsuit against Social Security in United States District Court. (District Court is not part of Social Security.)

You must file your case within 60 days from the date you received your Appeals Council denial. A non-attorney disability advocate cannot file appeals in U.S. District Court. You must have a lawyer who is admitted to practice in U.S. District Court. Bothwell & Hamill has extensive experience arguing in U.S. District Court.

U.S. District Court appeals are typically about procedural issues rather than medical facts. No one is allowed to testify. No new evidence is presented. It can take a year or longer to receive a decision from the judge. The judge may:

  • send the case back to Social Security with instructions about your case
  • agree with the decision to deny your case, or
  • reverse Social Security and award you disability benefits.

In very rare cases, further appeals may be made to federal Circuit Court and the United States Supreme Court.

Bothwell & Hamill represents people unable to work at all levels of appeal. Whether you need to apply for benefits or were already denied, contact us to talk about your case. There is no attorney fee unless you win disability benefits.