Social Security Disability Application Process in Richmond, VA
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are available to disabled worker’s who meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) definition of disability and who have earned enough work credits over their lifetime by paying into the Social Security system through payroll taxes. If you meet the SSA’s definition of disability then you can receive SSDI benefits regardless of your assets, resources, or income from other disability or retirement benefit programs. This is good news for those of you receiving workers compensation benefits, VRS payments, long term disability benefits, or Veterans’ Administration compensation.
There are four levels in the Social Security Disability application process for evaluating disability claims. If your claim is denied at all four levels of the SSA’s administrative review process then you can file a lawsuit against the SSA in federal court.
This article explains the Social Security Disability application process for disabled workers and their families in Richmond and throughout Virginia. We also provide a SSD timeline so that you know what to expect at every level of the disability application process.
Please keep reading for more information. If you have a question about how to apply for SSD benefits or are seeking legal representation, call, text, or email Social Security Disability attorney Richmond and Virginia Beach disability lawyer Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We proudly serve residents of Richmond, Chesterfield, Hanover, Petersburg, Newport News, Williamsburg, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Fredericksburg, and surrounding areas throughout the Virginia Social Security Disability Application process.
The Four Levels of the Social Security Disability Application Process in Virginia with a Timeline for SSD Applications
When determining your rights under title II of the Social Security Act, which governs SSDI benefits, the SSA follows a strict administrative review process. This process applies to all adults who file a claim for disability insurance benefits.
Level One – Initial Determination on Your Application for Benefits
There is a lot of paperwork that goes into your SSDI claim. After you complete your initial Social Security Disability application, Activities of Daily Living Questionnaire, Function Report, Pain Report, Work History Report, and Authorization to Release Medical Information, the SSA will assign your claim to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in the state where you live. DDS is a state agency that is fully funded by the federal government.
DDS makes the initial determination on your disability claim. It will review all the information you submit and request medical records from your treating health care providers for the 12-month period prior to the date you allege you became disabled through the present. This is why it’s important for you to provide detailed and complete information when you apply for benefits. If you’re vague about your work history and past job responsibilities, or leave out some health care providers, then your claim will likely be denied.
If DDS does not have enough medical information to decide your case then it will schedule you for a consultative examination with one of its doctors. This often happens when applicants do not have adequate health care coverage and therefore are unable to receive all the medical treatment they need.
After DDS obtains all the information it thinks is necessary to determine your initial application it will make a decision. You will receive your initial determination in the mail. Remember that most initial applications for disability insurance benefits are denied. This determination is binding unless you request a reconsideration within the stated time period or the SSA decides to revise its initial determination on its own. We recommend requesting reconsideration in almost all cases.
Timeline for Initial Social Security Disability Application Level
In our experience the average waiting time for a decision on the initial disability application is five months. But we’ve seen claims processed in as little as one month and as long as eight months.
The wait time depends on a number of factors.
One factor is how quickly your health care providers respond to the SSA’s requests for medical documents. Some health care providers produce these in less than a week, while other health care providers, especially large health care providers that use third-party copying services, can take a few months.
Another factor that impacts how long it takes to receive a decision on your initial Social Security disability application is whether the SSA determines you need to undergo a consultative examination. A consultative examination is a one-time evaluation by a doctor who examines you on the SSA’s behalf. Though a consultative examination can be helpful in proving that you’re disabled under Social Security law, it can add weeks or even months to the time it takes to receive a decision.
And finally, the wait time is often based on the SSA’s current workload and backlog of cases.
Level Two – Reconsideration
If the SSA denies your initial disability application then you have 60 days to request a reconsideration. This is the first appeal level.
At the reconsideration level you and your attorney should review the medical and vocational documentation that the SSA used to deny to your initial application. If something is missing or you have continued to receive medical care then you need to make sure that the SSA obtains the updated information.
At this level another disability claims examiner with DDS will review your application. He or she may even be in the same office as the first person that denied your claim.
After reviewing your file DDS will send you a letter with its decision. Usually the process takes two to four months though it can take longer depending on how quickly your health care providers respond to requests for information.
The overwhelming majority of reconsideration requests are denied. If you do not request a hearing then the reconsideration denial becomes binding. We recommend requesting a hearing in almost every case.
Timeline for the Request for Reconsideration Stage of the Social Security Disability Application Process
In our experience, you’ll have to wait 2 to 4 months to receive a decision on your request for reconsideration.
Usually the reconsideration stage of the SSD application process involves requesting updated medical records, noting whether you’ve experienced any significant changes in your physical or mental disabilities, and reviewing the medical evidence again. National statistics show that this stage is often nothing more than a rubber stamp denial of the initial disability application denial. For this reason, the reconsideration stage often takes the least amount of time to get through in Virginia.
Level Three – Hearing
If the SSA denies your initial application for benefits then you will likely need to go to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) to get the SSDI benefits you deserve. You must file a request for hearing with the SSA within 60 days of the date of your reconsideration denial.
You will receive a notice of hearing in the mail roughly 75 days before the hearing is scheduled. At this time your attorney will schedule conferences with you to make sure that updated medical information is requested and to prepare you and your witnesses for hearing. You must submit additional evidence more than five days prior to hearing for it to be considered.
If you live in Central Virginia then your hearing will be held in Richmond. If you live in Hampton Roads then your hearing will be held in Norfolk or Newport News.
The ALJ is not bound by the decisions made by DDS at the initial application and reconsideration levels. He or she will make an independent decision based on the medical and vocational documents in your file and testimony from you, the vocational expert, and medical experts at hearing. The ALJ will also consider statements made by your attorney in support of your case.
We often ask the ALJ to issue an on the record decision finding that you’re disabled. But some ALJs do not like to make an on the record decision. In these cases the ALJ will issue a written decision roughly one week to eight weeks after the hearing.
Your attorney will review the written decision with you. If it’s fully favorable then the ALJ found you disabled as of the date alleged. If it’s partially favorable then the ALJ found you disabled as of some date other than the date you alleged you became disabled. And if it’s unfavorable then the ALJ denied your claim.
We experience our greatest success at the hearing level because we’re able to present your story and put a face to the case.
Timeline for the Hearing Level of the Social Security Application Process
In Virginia it takes twelve to eighteen months for a hearing to be scheduled. This is consistent with wait times at hearing offices around the country.
This is the longest wait in almost all cases. And as a result, many clients get frustrated because they continue to suffer physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We check the status of your Social Security disability application process every 30 days. Unfortunately the wait time seems to be getting longer and longer. The SSA is aware of the problem and that there are 1 million disability applications waiting to be heard.
During the wait you should continue treating with your medical providers and continue to work with your attorney to develop the evidence in your case.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Hearing Decision from the Social Security Judge?
Most claims are not decided at the disability hearing. Instead you have to wait to receive a written decision on your Social Security Disability application.
Many judges in Richmond are telling claimants that it could take 60 to 120 days to receive a decision. The wait time often depends on the judge and whether the evidentiary record was kept open to receive additional documents.
This can be a frustrating time, but keep your head up. As your disability attorney we check on the status of your SSD application at the hearing level every 30 days.
Level Four – Appeals Council
If the ALJ denies your SSDI claim then you have 60 days to request a review by the Appeals Council. At this level the Appeals Council will review the ALJ’s decision, the hearing recording and transcript, and the evidence in your file. Your attorney may file a disability brief that sets forth why the ALJ’s decision was incorrect.
Before requesting review by the Appeals Council you should discuss your age and date last insured with your attorney. Sometimes filing a new application is the best decision.
Timeline for Appeals Council Review of the Social Security Disability Application
Usually it takes from eight months to fourteen months to receive a decision at the Appeals Council level. And most cases are denied.
Because of how long it takes, you and your attorney should discuss whether it makes more sense to file a new application for benefits or whether you should request review by the Appeals Council.
Level Five – Federal Court
Requesting review by the Appeals Council is the last step in the SSA’s administrative review process. But it is not the last possible step. You may file a lawsuit against the Commissioner of the SSA in federal district court.
Few claimant file a lawsuit in federal district court. This is because the standard of review changes. Instead of deciding your case by a preponderance of the evidence the federal court will look to see if there is any evidence whatsoever to confirm your denial. For this reason we take only a handful of cases to federal court each year.
Guiding You Through the Social Security Disability Application Process – Richmond VA Disability Lawyer Corey Pollard
No matter what step you’re at in the SSD application process, Corey Pollard is here to help.
You have a lot to gain with your SSDI claim in Virginia. Last year the average monthly benefit for a SSDI recipient was more than $1,100.00 per month. Your monthly benefit amount is determined by your past earnings. The more you made in the past the higher your monthly SSDI benefit.
Contact Corey Pollard now for help getting your Social Security Disability application approved.