How the Process Works

For most applicants, this is how the disability evaluation process works:

Step 1: The claimant makes an application for disability at their local social security office.

Step 2: Social Security forwards the application to a state agency whose task is to gather a claimant's medical records and decide if the case is to be approved or denied. This agency is known as Disability Determination Services (DDS).
  • When the case is sent to DDS, it is assigned to an individual called an Examiner. To find out who your examiner is, you may call DDS at 919-212-3222.
  • Unfortunately, there is no deadline for DDS to make decisions. Even if the social security office gives you an estimate--for example, 90 to 120 days--bear in mind these are completely separate agencies. The truth is: social security cannot predict how long your case will be there. It may be there for a month, or for several months.
Step 3: Most cases are denied at this initial stage. If your initial application is denied, you will be notified by mail that you have 60 days to file your first appeal. This appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration. If you file a reconsideration request with your social security office, your case will be sent, once again, to disability determination services.
  • A reconsideration is handled the same as an initial application. The only major difference is this: a different examiner will review your case.
  • Reconsiderations can take as long to decide as initial applications.
  • As with initial applications, most reconsiderations are also denied.
Step 4: If your reconsideration is denied by DDS, you will be given the opportunity (again, you have 60 days) to make a second appeal. This appeal is a Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.
  • Once a request for hearing is made, it may be several months before the case is assigned to a judge and scheduled for a hearing.
  • Before the hearing takes place, your attorney will gather a copy of your social security file, which contains all your paperwork and all the medical records previously gathered by social security. He will also gather your current medical records and make copies of these available to the judge in your case.
Because the time involved in getting your case before a Judge is considerable, being properly represented at the time of your hearing is vital.

Having an attorney who is experienced in disability law and knows the criteria for winning cases is crucial. It can make the difference between an approval--or simply another denial.