Going through the Social Security Administration's (SSA) process for disability could take from a few weeks to several years depending on what point in the process you receive a final decision.

There are different steps of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) process. You may not have to go through all of the steps listed in order to receive a final decision.

  • 1: Initial Application
  • 2: Reconsideration
  • 3: Administrative Hearing
  • 4: Appeals Council

Each level can be difficult for an individual attempting the process alone. You will be required to fill out detailed government forms, submit doctor records, complete questionnaires, and much more. The right representation at the very beginning can help you receive your benefits in less time and with less stress.

Initial Application

Many attorneys and disability service companies tell clients to "go and apply and once you're denied, come back and see us." That approach is not in your best interest. Social Security denies the majority of the initial applications it receives. However, SSDC is able to influence the outcome such that many our clients are awarded at initial application.

  • Paperwork at this stage can be overwhelming but it is very important that it be completed quickly, accurately, and with details that best describe your disability.

An experienced representative who knows the process and form requirements can save an individual a great deal of time and anguish.

Remember, with a team like SSDC on your side, you have a much better chance of receiving your award at Initial Application and never having to worry about the next steps.


If your initial application is denied, you have 60 days to appeal your denial by asking for a reconsideration. Your claim is then sent to a different reviewer at Social Security. During this time, your medical and work information will need to be reviewed and updated. According to SSA's own numbers, only about 10% of reconsiderations get approved. Once again, the right assistance at this level greatly increases your chances of a win.

(Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and some locations in California do not have a reconsideration stage; if you are denied in level one in these states, you will proceed to an Administrative Hearing.)

Administrative Hearing

If you are denied at Reconsideration (or live in the one of states listed above), you have 60 days to appeal the decision. The Social Security Administration assigns your claim to an administrative law judge who will make an independent decision based on the evidence. You will be notified of the time and place of the hearing (usually within 75 miles of your home) and it is important for you to attend. You will have an opportunity to submit additional evidence prior to the hearing. As with every stage of this process, good representation increases your chances of success. This is your first opportunity to speak face to face with the person (judge) who is determining whether you are disabled according to Social Security. For those who have been denied at initial application and reconsideration, the administrative hearing step is where most awards are granted.

Appeals Council

If you are denied at the Administrative Hearing, you have 60 days to file an appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will then review the hearing denial to see if the judge did not follow Social Security's rules and regulations. The decision will then either be reversed, sent back to the judge for another hearing, or the denial will stand.

If a favorable decision is not reached at the Appeals Council level, you have a right to file an appeal to Federal Court.

For over 30 years SSDC has prided itself on assisting clients from the very beginning of the process. We are one of the leading advocacy organizations in the country.