The Social Security Administration (SSA) has released statistics regarding disability decisions made in fiscal year 2016. These statistics show how difficult it is to get approved at the initial application level and why you should appeal denials issued at the initial and reconsideration levels. The statistics also show the high number of claims filed and decided each year, which is part of the reason it takes so long to receive a decision.


There were 2,582,092 applications for disability benefits filed in fiscal year 2016. The SSA made 2,548,732 decisions this level. Only 33 percent of the initial applications were approved. The rest were denied. As you can see, you have a low chance of getting approved at the initial application level.


There were 633,474 requests for reconsideration filed with the SSA. And 641,169 decisions were made at this level, which means that some of the decisions were made on requests filed in fiscal year 2015. At this level only 12 percent of claims were approved, with 88 percent denied. This means that the reconsideration level is serving as a “rubber stamp” for initial denials. I’m not surprised. Colleagues within the Disability Determination Services (DDS) are making the decision on your claim at both the initial and reconsideration levels.


In fiscal year 2016 the SSA received 698,579 requests for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). And 476,135 decisions were made. ALJs approved benefits in 46 percent of cases, denied benefits in 35 percent of cases, and dismissed 20 percent of claims for various reasons. Though the SSA did not provide information on legal representation, other studies have shown that having an attorney represent you at the disability hearing increases your chance of getting approved for benefits.


If your claim is denied at the ALJ hearing level you can file an appeal with the Appeals Council in Falls Church, VA. There were 133,840 such appeals filed in fiscal year 2016. The Appeals Council made more than 113,000 decisions. Of these decisions, 1 percent overturned the ALJ and approved benefits, 82 percent denied the claim, and 13 percent remanded the claim for a new hearing before an administrative law judge. The Appeals Council will issue a remand order if it thinks the ALJ needs to obtain new evidence or to reevaluate evidence already in the file.


Though requesting review by the Appeals Council is the last step in the administrative review process for SSD claims, denied claimants have one more option: filing a lawsuit in federal court. In fiscal year 2016 more than 18,000 claimants filed suit. There were 18,167 decisions made. Of these decisions, 42 percent denied the claim and 49 percent remanded the claim for a new ALJ hearing. A likely reason for this high success rate is that attorneys take only the most meritorious appeals to federal court.


If you have a question about your claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or are looking for legal representation at your disability hearing, contact Richmond disability lawyer and Social Security Disability attorney Virginia Beach Corey Pollard for a free, no obligation consultation. Our firm has helped thousands of disabled adults and children across Virginia get the SSDI benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) they deserve.




  • Initial and Reconsideration Data: SSA State Agency Operations Report
  • Administrative Law Judge and Appeals Council data: SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR)
  • Federal Court data: SSA Office of General Counsel

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