The hearing level of the Social Security disability appeals process is perhaps your best opportunity for getting approved for disability benefits. But what if the judge rules against you? There is a third step to the appeals process you can pursue. You can request that Social Security’s Appeals Council review the judge’s decision.
What is the Appeals Council?
The Appeals Council is a group of about 54 Administrative Law Judges and 54 Appeals Officers and is part of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), SSA’s administrative adjudication system.
The Council does not review details of your case or meet with you, as your hearing judge did. The Council’s purpose is to review the judge’s actions to determine if he or she made errors that impacted the final decision.
How to Request a Review
If you disagree with the judge’s denial decision, you have the right to ask the Appeals Council to review that decision but you must make your request in writing within 60 days of the date of the hearing decision. You may also include new evidence with your appeal and reasons why you disagree with the judge’s decision.
If you miss the 60-day window to request an appeal, you may ask the Council, again in writing, if they will consider giving you an extension. You must include reasons why you were late in asking for a review.
There are no hearings with the Appeals Council. All communication is done through written briefs and letters back to you from the Council explaining their decision.
You can request a review of your case on your own. But, considering the highly technical issues surrounding a disability case, it is advisable to ask your non-attorney disability advocate or attorney to prepare this request for you.
Actions the Appeals Council May Take
This is what the Appeals Council may decide to do:
- Reject a review because they feel the judge’s decision was right
- Review your case and reverse the decision because they feel the judge was wrong
- Review your case and decide to send it back – or remand it – for a second hearing with a different ALJ because:
- Your judge made a technical error, or
- Your judge did not properly consider all medical evidence
How Much Longer to Wait
The Appeals Council could make a decision as quickly as three months, or it may take as long as 18 to 24 months. If your case is remanded for a second hearing with a different Administrative Law Judge, you may have to wait another one to three more years to get scheduled for a new hearing.
The Appeals Council processed about 119,500 requests for review in 2010 and expects to review 131,800 cases in 2011.
The Final Step
If you are still dissatisfied with the outcome of your disability case, you have the option to file a civil action in U.S. District Court. Again, you have 60 days after receiving the Council’s decision to do so. This is the last level of the Social Security disability appeals process.
During SSA’s fiscal year beginning October 2009 and ending in September 2010, SSA processed 12,420 new civil actions.