What are the chances of my Social Security Disability Case being approved?

If you are preparing to file a claim or appeal for Disability, you may be wondering what your chances of winning are. The most accurate answer will be complicated and specific to you.

This FAQ will give you a general idea of how frequently disability cases are won at each level, and what you can do to increase your odds of winning.

Initial Application

Chance of winning: 30%

Most Social Security Disability applications are initially denied. This includes many applicants who are eligible for the program.

There are many things you can do to increase your chances of success from the beginning.

  1. Keep complete medical documentation - The most important part of a disability application is the medical information. If you have enough medical evidence that you are disabled, chances are good you will win your claim (at least eventually). Do not trust the SSA offices to get the paperwork from your doctor’s office. Both of these offices can be overwhelmed and have no special interest in your case. You may have to personally ensure that the paperwork is handled and sent to the Social Security office.
  2. Do what your doctor tells you - Having your doctor on your side is one of the biggest ways you can help your Disability claim. And the best way to keep your doctor on your side is to do what they tell you to do. Besides, not following doctor’s orders can complicate winning your case as well.
  3. Make sure the application is complete - The Disability application is long, complicated, and involved. It will require gathering lots of documentation on everything from marriages, to health, to employment status. Filling out the form incorrectly or incompletely can be grounds for losing your initial claim, no matter the merits.
  4. Keep records of claim status - The Social Security Disability process is full of a variety of deadlines. The best way to make sure you aren’t missing those deadlines is to not lose track of the status of your application. Plan to call the Social Security offices frequently for updates.
  5. Don’t believe everything you hear - That being said, the Social Security 1-800 number can sometimes provide inaccurate information, or information that doesn’t apply to your situation. Independently confirm any information you hear from the 1-800 number.

Few law firms help with Disability claims at all, and those that do usually do not help out at this initial stage of the process. But if all this work sounds overwhelming, which it very well might for someone who is ill or injured, you may benefit from working with a law office— like the Packard Law Firm— that can help ensure we maximize your chance of success from the very beginning saving you time and trouble over the long-run.

Also consider that you do not directly pay your disability lawyer. They receive 25% of any back pay you are awarded. The sooner you win your disability claim, the less back pay you will be due, and the less you will ultimately need to pay a lawyer.

Reconsideration

Chance of winning: 13%

After you are initially denied, you can ask for your application to be reconsidered. A case that is reconsidered is handled by the same office with the same rules as the initial consideration, but is looked at by a different examiner.

What can you do to improve your chances of winning at this level of the process? If you filled out the initial claim correctly and thoroughly then, not a lot. But it’s a necessary step to eventually get to a hearing with the Administrative Law Judge.

You will need to do the following:

  1. Make the request - Many people who apply for disability will simply give up if they lose their initial claim. Others will simply fill out the application again starting a new claim. The most important thing you can do at this step is to simply submit a reconsideration appeal.
  2. Move quickly - After your initial claim is denied you only have sixty days to ask for a reconsideration. This is not a lot of time, especially if you are trying to gather new documentation or correct your previous application. As soon as you get the denial it’s time to get working.
  3. Improve your application - Anything you wish you had included in the initial application you can include now. If you didn’t complete the application, or have had new medical documentation make sure to include it.

Appeal

Chance of winning: 60% (with a lawyer) 25%-30% otherwise

This is the step where the odds can turn to your favor. In the final appeal you will appear before an Administrative Law Judge.

  1. Don’t limit yourself to the form - When you submit an appeal, the form only gives you a few lines to explain. Instead write “see attached form” where you can explain the reason for your appeal thoroughly.
  2. Follow up - Some judges will allow you to answer any questions from the hearing more accurately through a follow-up written statement. If you feel you didn’t adequately answer a question, reach out and see if you can submit a more clear answer.
  3. Get a lawyer - If you have not yet secured a lawyer in your Disability case, now is the time. Study after study shows that applicants with a lawyer are about twice as likely to win their appeal than those who aren’t. Appearing before a judge is complicated, and this is your best chance to win. Don’t rely on Perry Mason reruns, get someone who knows what they are doing.

Disability Appeals Council

Chance of winning: < 5%

This level mostly looks at irregularities in the appeals process. You will not ordinarily win at this level  because the council disagrees with the decision, but rather because they believe the decision was unfair.

That being said about 20% of cases are also sent back to the Administrative Law Judge to be retried, where you have another chance to win.

There are a few things you can do to help your case at this final level:

  1. Move quickly - Like at every other step you only have sixty days to file an appeal. And at this level, because you’ve already been seen by a judge, filing a new claim and starting the process over may not be an option.
  2. Get a lawyer - You should have already had a lawyer for the appeal, but if you didn’t it is even more essential now. The Disability Appeals Council is largely looking for legal irregularities in the decision. Finding these requires someone who is trained in the law.
  3. Get record of appeals hearing - The council is not just interested in your case, but in what happened before the Administrative Law Judge. You can request an audio version of the appeal as well as a file with all the exhibits.
  4. Get your doctor’s opinion - Take your denial from the appeal along with the reasoning to your doctor. If they disagree with the reasoning, have them write why they disagree, The Disability Appeals Council can consider this statement in their review.