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What are the Chances of Winning a Social Security Appeal?

It’s no secret among lawyers that most applicants for Social Security disability benefits are rejected when they first apply. Fortunately, there are several “levels” of appeal, including reconsideration, hearing, appeals Council, and the federal courts. If you lose at one level, you can appeal to a higher level. The government might also appeal if you win, but that is much rarer.

At Surasky Law, we have assisted many people in obtaining disability benefits. Please do not be discouraged if your application is initially rejected. Instead, reach out to our legal team today for a free consultation. We have the experience necessary to shepherd your case through the appeals process and make a powerful argument that you deserve benefits. Find out below what the chances of winning a social security appeal really are.

More Than 60% of Applicants Are Rejected Initially

These numbers should provide some comfort to those who receive an initial rejection. The Disability Determination Services agency provides an initial assessment. They tend to be picky and look for reasons to reject the application, so it isn’t surprising that only 35% or so receive the green light for benefits.

If you are denied, you should receive a letter explaining the reasons. You will also be informed of deadlines for requesting reconsideration.


Reconsideration is the next level. Essentially, DDS will take a second look at your application. As you can imagine, they are not eager to change their mind. About 13% of those who request reconsideration will get an approval. The rest are denied a second time.

You can improve the odds of approval on reconsideration by making sure you have updated medical records on file with the office. That way, the office fully understands the extent of your disability. You should also correct any mistakes you might have made on your application.

Appeal Hearing

A hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) is the next level of appeal after you lose on reconsideration. The ALJ will decide whether you qualify for benefits, and you should have an attorney represent you.

In South Carolina, your odds of approval go up considerably at this level. Roughly 60 % of those who request a hearing receive approval for disability benefits. There are several reasons for this. For one, ALJs tend to see themselves as more independent than staff in the Disability Determination Services Office. For another, the factual record tends to be better developed at the hearing stage. There is usually more evidence of your disability and how it has impacted your life.

You should hire a lawyer for your appeal. At Surasky Law, we can find evidence that addresses the reason why SSA denied you benefits. For example, they might claim your injury isn’t serious enough to keep you from working. We will coordinate with your medical team to fully document your current medical condition.

Appeals Council

If you lose at the hearing stage, your case still is not over. You have the option of appealing to the Social Security Appeals Council, which is located in Virginia. You have 60 days to request an appeal after the ALJ denies you benefits.

The Council essentially reviews the ALJ’s work. They look to see if the ALJ made some error while deciding your case. If so, the Council can either send it back to the ALJ for another hearing or they can award you benefits. The amount of time for the council to reach a decision varies. Some people wait a year or more, while others receive a decision in a few months.

Winning benefits at this stage is very rare—many sources claim only 1-3% of people who appeal to the Appeals Council are awarded benefits. Most are denied, although some get remanded back to the ALJ for another hearing.

Discuss with your attorney whether it makes sense to appeal to this Council. If the ALJ made an obvious error, then we can prepare an appeal and submit it on time. For example, the ALJ might have completely disregarded evidence you submitted during your hearing.

Federal Court Appeals

The last step in the appeals process is to appeal to the local federal district court. This is a judge with life tenure, appointed by the President. District court judges provide a close review of the decisions made at the earlier levels of appeal.

Your odds of winning benefits are low in federal court—about 2%. However, the judge frequently sends cases back to the ALJ to reconsider some issues. For example, the ALJ might not have analyzed your case using the correct federal law. A district court will provide instructions for the ALJ to follow.

If you lose at the federal district court level, your case is probably over. In a very limited class of cases, you might continue appealing to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and even the United States Supreme Court. However, these courts usually consider rare legal issues. As an example, different courts around the country might have different interpretations of the deadline for filing an appeal.

How a Lawyer Helps with Chances of Winning a Social Security Appeal

An experienced lawyer can bolster a Social Security disability appeal in several ways:

  • Gather relevant information to prove you qualify for benefits under the law.

  • Analyze legal interpretations of the law. You might think the law is always crystal clear, but there is sometimes ambiguity. We strive to know how an ALJ will look at your case.

  • Represent you at the hearing so your evidence is presented to the ALJ in a clear and coherent manner.

  • Address any concerns the ALJ has about your case, always focusing on why you deserve benefits.

  • Draft briefs if you appeal to the Social Security Council or the federal courts.

Although claimants can technically represent themselves at every level of appeal, you are at a disadvantage if you do so.

Call Surasky Law for Help

We can get immediately to work on your case. Because there are tight deadlines in the Social Security field, we strongly encourage you to call us as soon as possible.


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