Social Security Disability Claim Approval Rate

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Question

What are my chances of getting approved for disability benefits?

Answer

The approval rate for Social Security disability (SSDI) and SSI claims varies, depending on the level at which claims are reviewed. Cases heard by administrative law judges (ALJs)  have a significantly higher rate of approval than cases that are decided at the application and reconsideration levels (in most states, reconsideration is the first level of appeal, a paper review). For instance, more than half of disability applicants who appeal and attend a hearing with an ALJ are approved for benefits, while only about 35% of applications are approved at the initial application level and only 10% of applicants are approved at the reconsideration level. 

Of course, these approval rates are based on an average of everyone who applies for disability benefits. Many people who apply for benefits have impairments but are not yet unable to work, while others are seriously disabled. If you have a severe impairment or medical condition, you have a better chance of winning your claim.

Where a claim is reviewed also has an influencing effect on approval rates. Disability Determination Services, or DDS offices in various states, have differing rates of approvals, just as hearing offices in different states have differing rates of approvals. 

What accounts for such differences in an allegedly objective system? Primarily the fact that the system is not as objective as the Social Security Administration might claim. While the rules governing Social Security disability cases are the same in every state (SSDI and SSI are federal programs), the disability determinations are made by people - either claims examiners at DDS or ALJs at hearing offices. Decision making based on a "human reading" of a claimant's medical records is, inherently and unavoidably, a subjective process. 

It is also true, as well, that some judges are simply more open to approving cases, while other judges deny cases substantially more often than they approve them. Learn about how to improve your chances of getting disability benefits.

To find your state's approval rates for the initial disability application and on appeal, see our state disability resource pages.

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LA-NOLO4:DRU.1.6.5.20141029.29183