Important: We updated this article in February 2023 to make sure all info below is both current and correct. If the SSA sends you a denial letter in the mail, don’t give up! Just 1 in 5 claimants (20%) get approved the first time they apply. You may still win benefits if you appeal within 60 days. However, most people who win benefits at their appeals hearing have a lawyer.
Step 1: Get Professional Help Filing Your Appeal
We strongly suggest having a lawyer file your appeal (or at least consult one before getting started on your own). You’ll pay nothing to talk privately with a lawyer and get specific advice that applies to your situation. Plus, a lawyer can easily spot mistakes on your application and explain why the SSA denied your claim. Click here to find an experienced lawyer to answer your questions now for free.
Step 2: Submit Your Appeal (Request for Reconsideration) Within 60 Days
Complete and file Form SSA-561 with the SSA within 60 days after receiving the SSA’s denial letter. Note: If you cannot get an appointment with your local Social Security office, you can also submit it by mail. If a lawyer filed your initial claim, there’s nothing else for you to do. Your attorney will handle all the appeals paperwork needed for reconsideration.
Important: As of December 2022, the SSA says this first appeals stage, reconsideration, takes about six months to complete.
Step 3: Request an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing
Just like Step 2, you have 60 days to request your ALJ hearing (do this as soon as possible!). The SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) usually schedules your appeal hearing 7-18 months after receiving your request. At this stage, most people who win benefits have a lawyer (and 81% of people at hearings do).
Important: Wait times for appeal hearings can vary according to which state you live in. Find yours on our interactive hearing wait times map of the U.S. (current as of December 2022).
Step 4: If You’re Denied Again, Request an Appeals Council Review
You have another 60 days to dispute the judge’s ruling if you don’t win SSD benefits at this stage. But if you miss this filing deadline, the SSA will automatically dismiss your case. You’re only likely to win SSD benefits at this appeals stage if:
- The judge cut your ALJ hearing short or made an obviously flawed ruling. The Appeals Council may review your claim, dismiss it or reverse the ALJ’s decision.
- Your SSD case implies broad policy or procedural issue changes. If an expert testified at your ALJ hearing or you’re the first person to develop a new impairment, then this applies to you.
Step 5: File a Federal Lawsuit Against the Social Security Administration
Your last appeal option involves suing the SSA. This is expensive and time-consuming (i.e., you may wait 2-9 years for your court date). Only choose Step 5 if you believe the SSA made legal errors during the application and claim review process. Most lawyers aren’t willing to represent these cases on contingency, or sue the SSA at all.
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.