Social Security Claims

The Social Security Disability claims process can have many steps depending on how many times your claim is rejected and you appeal. Overall, there are five stages, each with its own format, rules, and decision makers. The first four stages are within the Social Security Administration, and the last stage is independent of Social Security.

Filing Your Disability Claim

The initial stage takes place after you file a social security disability claim with the Social Security office. Your original claim is reviewed by a disability examiner working at the Disability Determination agency in Pennsylvania. This disability examiner will review your file, medical records, and other important information and consult with a doctor to determine if you are disabled and eligible for Social Security benefits.


If the disability examiner rejects your claim, which is very typical, you can request an appeal called “reconsideration.” Reconsideration, as the name suggests, is less like an appeal and more like asking Social Security to take a second look at your claim and “reconsider” its decision. As in the initial stage, another disability examiner in your local Disability Determination agency will review your claim and issue a decision. Also, as before, the claimant will not have any personal contact with the examiner. Generally, 80% of the claims at this stage are rejected.

Request a Hearing

If the disability examiner rejects your claim after the reconsideration stage, the claimant can again appeal and request a hearing with an administrative law judge.  At the hearing stage, the claimant will  present his case before an administrative law judge in hopes of receiving a favorable decision. The hearing is informal compared to most legal settings, and typically will include the claimant, the claimant’s attorney or advocate, the administrative law judge, a law clerk and a vocational expert to testify as to the claimant’s disability and limitations. The hearing will not have a jury or an audience, and Social Security will not be represented by an attorney or advocate. After the hearing,  the judge will issue a written decision independent of the prior decisions of the disability examiners. Statistically, over half of the claims at this stage are successful.

Appeal to the Appeals Council

If you receive an unfavorable decision at the hearing stage, you can file an appeal  to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council is a single body located in Falls Church, Virginia, that will review the administrative judge’s decision if you are unsuccessful. The Appeals Council only reviews the judge’s decision and does not hear arguments from the claimant or claimant’s attorney or advocate.

Still Unsuccessful? Take Your Case to the Federal Courts

If your claim is rejected by the Appeals Council, you can file an appeal in a United States District Court.  It’s important to remember that the United States District Court appeal is the first appeal that is handled outside the Social Security Administration.

How long does the claim decision take?

It can take as little as thirty days or as long as three years to go through the process to receive disability benefits. The Social Security disabilities programs do not have deadlines to meet to process your applications or appeals so it is virtually impossible to know how long it will take to receive a decision.  On average it takes about three to four months for a decision to be made on an initial claim and another three to four months if you are initially denied and have to file for Reconsideration. If your case is denied at the Reconsideration level and you still want to pursue disability benefits, you will have to have a hearing scheduled before the Administrative law judge which usually takes about twelve months, depending on the back up of cases in your area.

As detailed above, the Social Security Disability claims process is complicated, tedious, and time consuming. As with any difficult scenario, it is helpful to have experience on your side, and that’s exactly what we offer. Choose the best Social Security disability attorneys in Pittsburgh, PA to help you navigate Social Security’s bureaucratic maze and save you time and heartache. Contact Martin & Lerda at 412-271-6800 for assistance with your social security claim.