There are 3 primary stages to an Social Security case.

The first stage is the Initial Application; the second stage is the Request for Reconsideration; and the third stage is the Request for an Social Security Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.

Phase 1–The Initial Application. The Initial Social Security application can be prepared and submitted online at the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov. You can also go to your local Social Security office and file the application, or arrange to have the Social Security application done over the phone with an Social Security representative. In years, past, when Social Security first stared processing online applications, these applications had to be prepared by the actual Claimant.

Many times, people thought they had successfully submitted the application online, only to find out months later that they had not fully submitted the claim and that it had not actually been received or processed. Fortunately, Social Security now allows third parties, such as a Legal Representative, to prepare and submit the online application for you. An experienced Social Security attorney and staff can now work with you to ensure that all the necessary information is gathered and that the Application is detailed and confirm that the Application is received and processed by Social Security.

In the Initial phase, Social Security orders your records based upon the medical providers that you have listed in your application.

They will not order medical records for treatment you received years ago. They will typically only order records covering the year or so prior to the date that you say you became disabled. Once the records are received they are reviewed and if necessary, you will be sent to a doctor that SS selects and that Social Security pays. That doctor will examine you and then provide a written report to Social Security that identifies your physical or mental impairments. Sometimes these doctors, called Consultative Examiners, will perform physical examinations and ask you to demonstrate what you are physically able to do in terms of sitting, standing, lifting, and showing the range of motion in your back, hips, knees, legs, etc. These Examiners may spend only a few minutes with you and barely examine you at all, or they may perform a very detailed examination.

Typically, the Initial phase of the Social Security case can take 2-4 months. Once Social Security makes their decision you will be notified in writing. You will receive a letter from Social Security letting you know whether they have approved or they have denied your claim.

Phase 2–the Request for Reconsideration: If your claim is denied at the Initial Phase, as most claims are, then you have 60 days in which to request an appeal, called a Request for Reconsideration.

Basically, you are asking Social Security to take a second look at our case. If you have undergone more medical treatment since the initial decision was made, they may order more medical records. If they have not sent you to a consultative examination at the Initial phase, they may do so now. You can expect that this phase will take between 2 and 6 months.

Unfortunately, it is also not unusual for a file to get stuck at this phase, collecting dust on someone’s desk. If you havenot received an answer within 6 months of requesting the Reconsideration Review, then a call should be made to SS to check on the status of your claim. Also, if you have new medical developments, such as new hospitalizations, major changes in medications or new medical providers, it is important to let Social Security know about these developments.

If you have an Social Security attorney helping you with your claim, they or their staff can contact Social Security to determine what is going on and encourage Social Security to order additional records or let them know of any new developments in your case that may make your case stronger or may lead to an approval at this phase.

Once Social Security makes a decision at the Reconsideration phase, you will be notified in writing. You will receive a letter from Social Security letting you know if you have won your disability benefits or if they are denying your claim again. Please remember that very few cases are won at the Reconsideration phase.

Phase 3: The Request for a Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge: If you are denied at the Reconsideration level, then you have 60 days in which to Request a Hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (an “ALJ”).  This phase is the longest of the three.

Most people will wait 1 to 2 years from the time they request a Hearing until the time that they actually have their case heard in front of the judge. Many people become very discouraged and frustrated during this long waiting game, and rightfully so. At this point you are not working, and probably have no income at all; you are struggling to stay afloat, and keep your home and vehicle. You may be struggling to afford medical care or needed medications.

Many people end up losing their homes or moving in with friends or families during this difficult time while they are waiting for their case to be scheduled for a Hearing.

There are many reasons why the Hearing phase takes so long… As you might expect there are a tremendous number of people across the country that are applying for Social Security Disability. With the recent down turn in the economy many employed workers found themselves without jobs, and at an age and with physical problems that made it hard for them to find new employment.

Baby boomers are hitting their 60s; they haven’t yet reached full retirement age, and yet find themselves too sick to continue working. Judges that hear Social Security cases are expected to read every page of each claimant’s medical files. Each medical file contains hundreds or even thousands of pages of medical records that must be read and analyzed in order for the Social Security Judge to understand each case and make a disability determination.

Regardless of the reasons for the backlog, the result is a long and often times frustrating wait.

If you need help initiating a claim contact the Hartwig Law Firm at (508)732-8989 today.