Applying for Social Security in Washington State can be an overwhelming process.
If you are one of the greater than 70% of those who are initially denied your claim, it can be devastating, and your path to getting the benefits you have earned can be hard to see.
What should you do? Who can help you? This article was written to give you some clarity.
The first step is to calm down, take a deep breath, and if needed contact a disability professional to help you.
The first thing to know is that your denial letter should explain why you were denied and give you a list of the places social security requested and received medical evidence. It is very common to read through these letters and be confused and frustrated. Clearly, the Social Security Administration missed the mark somewhere; otherwise, you would not even be reading this article. Nevertheless – you should familiarize yourself with their statements and prepare yourself for your appeal options.
Here are your four appeal levels for Social Security in Washington State.
Request for Reconsideration
With your denial letter in hand, you now have 60 days (plus five days for mailing) from the date you received your denial notice to complete a request for reconsideration form and return it to the Social Security address listed in your letter. You can do this either by mail or by dropping it off at your local Social Security office. Here is a handy tool to locate Social Security offices in Washington State.
If you were denied because the Social Security Administration did not determine you to be disabled, ask to see what medical evidence they have in your file. When filing your request for reconsideration, you should seek to include as much of the following as possible with your request for reconsideration form:
- Letter from your doctor stating why he believes you are disabled
- Letter from friends or family stating how your disability has affected your day to day activities
- Additional medical evidence that was not originally included in your claim
You do not need to be present for the reconsideration.
And remember, if you are denied because Social Security believes you no longer have a disability, you do have the option to meet with a Washington State Social Security representative to explain you still have a disability.
If your request for reconsideration is denied, then you can request a hearing before an administrative law judge.
Typically, the time between your request and the hearing is 1-2 years, though this timeline can vary widely depending on where you live. In Spokane, WA – the timeline for disability hearings was 487 days as of the date this article was written. It is important for you to attend the hearing and bring your representative (if you have one).
Other witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts will likely testify for Social Security. You or your attorney representative will be able to ask them questions during the hearing and make a strong case for your disability is a barrier to employability.
After the hearing, the judge will make a decision, and you will receive a letter and copy of the decision.
Review by the Appeals Council
If you disagree with the decision made by the judge on your appeal, you can ask for the decision on your claim to be reviewed by the Appeals Council. At this point, if you have not used a Social Security Disability attorney, it is necessary to start consulting with one.
In short, the Appeals Council will look at your request and decide if they agree with the hearing decision – the decision of the judge based on the evidence provided.
If they believe the ALJ (administrative law judge) decision was correct, then the judge’s decision will be upheld.
If the appeals council believes there was an error in the ALJ’s decision, they may remand your claim back to another administrative law judge for another appeals hearing.
And, rarely, but it does happen – the Appeals Council will overturn a denied claim if they believe the judge’s decision was completely in error. This action would result in an approved disability claim.
Federal Court Review
If you do not agree with the Appeals Council, you can file a lawsuit in the Federal District Court. In the letter sent to you about the Appeals Council decision, you will find information on how to file with the federal court. You will need an attorney at this point, in any case. They should be aware of the process of filing a federal district court lawsuit.