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The Disability Process in Philadelphia

Initial Application for Social SecurityDisability

Getting Social Security disability benefits can be a difficult process, especially if you try to do it alone. There are several levels that you may have to go through to win your case. At Leventhal Sutton & Gornstein, Philadelphia Social Security disability lawyers, we provide representation for our clients at all levels: Initial, Reconsideration, Hearing, Appeals Council and the Federal Court.

The First Meeting

Your attorney will meet with you to discuss the disability claim process. They will ask for information about your severe impairments, medications, and medical providers. This information is important as it is needed to file the initial application for disability as well as any appeal work.

You should apply for disability as soon as you become disabled so as not to risk losing any benefits. If you decide to hire the attorney for your disability claim, you will complete forms of representation and the fee agreement. We will also need to obtain signed medical release forms from you so that we can order records when the time comes. All of the official paperwork will be sent to the Social Security Administration so that they will place your attorney on the file and allow electronic access to your disability folder.

Initial Claim

You may file your initial claim online or set up an appointment with Social Security to apply by telephone. The three most important things you can do for your case at the initial (and reconsideration) level is to return the forms to DDS as soon as possible, go to any consultative examinations they schedule for you and also get regular medical treatment from your doctors. If you do not return the forms to DDS or go to the consultative examination they can deny you on a technicality.

The DDS Examiner will then make a decision. If you are denied, you have 60 days from the date of the denial to request a reconsideration. We can help you request an appeal, communicate with DDS and make sure that your case keeps moving as quickly as possible.


You have received a denial on your initial application. The denial lists what medical records DDS considered and the Social Security Administration’s reason why they feel you are not disabled. The denial is upsetting, especially with being sick, and maybe having no health insurance or household income. You can file an appeal online or go to the local Social Security office and request an appeal, which is called the reconsideration.

When you request a reconsideration, your case will again be sent to DDS. A different examiner will review your case, send more forms for you to complete and order more medical records if you have any. This examiner will then make a decision on your case.

Statistically speaking, you have a far greater chance of being denied than you do being approved. If you receive a denial at the reconsideration level you have 60 days to request a hearing from the date of the reconsideration denial. We can help you request an appeal, communicate with DDS and make sure that your case keeps moving as quickly as possible.


You received your notice of reconsideration. This is your second denial. You are in shock at being denied twice by the Social Security Administration after they have requested so much information from you, your family and your doctor. You request the next level of appeal, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). It usually takes 18 months before your hearing is scheduled.

We experience with hearings, what ALJs expect and what an ALJ needs to have in order to approve your disability case. Legal representation is important at all levels, but it is critical at the hearing level and beyond. We will review your file to make sure DDS did not make errors, that your medical records are complete and that your doctor has been consulted for his/her medical opinion about your condition.

After the hearing, a decision is usually made by the ALJ within 60-90 days. If you lose at the hearing level, you can appeal to the Appeals Council (AC) OR open a new claim with the Social Security Administration if applicable. At this time in 2016, the Social Security Administration will not allow you to file an appeal and start a new claim. You have to choose which is the best choice for your case.

Appeals Council

In the unfortunate case your hearing decision is a denial, the next step is to proceed to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council will review your case to see if the ALJ made a legal error. If the Appeals Council determines that an error was made they will send your case back to the hearing office for you to have another hearing. The Appeals Council does not evaluate your case to make sure the ALJ made the right decision. They only look for legal errors made by the ALJ.

The Appeals Council is slow and unresponsive. It may take 18 months for the Appeals Council to rule on your request for appeal. The Appeals Council can remand your case back to an ALJ or they may approve your case. Approvals are rare, but they do happen. If you are denied by the Appeals Council, you can file a case in District Court or start a new application.

Federal Court

If the Appeals Council denies review, you have three choices. You can file a claim in Federal Court or you can start over again with an initial application to the local Social Security Office (or online as discussed above) or do both.

Federal Court (District Court) cases do not involve hearings or any type of meeting that you have to attend. The government attorney assigned to your case will file a brief on behalf of the Social Security Administration. Your attorney (or you) will file a brief on your behalf as well. The Federal Court judge will make a decision based on the briefs and records alone.

If the Federal Court judge agrees with you, he/she can approve your case or send your case back to the hearing office with instructions on how the ALJ can correct his/her error(s) of law. Approvals at the DC level are rare and remand is the usual remedy.

Leventhal Sutton & Gornstein, Philadelphia Social Security disability lawyers, will support you every step of the way … from appealing through hearing and award. 800-889-6101.

Posted on May 4th, 2016 by Leventhal, Sutton and Gornstein

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