While up to 70% of all initial applications for disability get denied, over 50% of cases heard by administrative law judges (ALJs) get approved.
Why is there such a large statistical disconnect? There are several reasons. Sometimes, it is simply because some medical conditions will get worse over time, so by the time a hearing is held (which can be up to two years following the filing of the disability application), a disability claim is simply stronger.
Another factor to consider is that applicants who don't think they have a strong claim for benefits decide not to appeal, leaving only the strong cases to get hearings.
Other times, the passage of time before a hearing is because a claimant "ages into an allowance." The medical-vocational rules for considering whether someone is disabled offer a greater chance of disability approval for those over 50. For example, if someone turns from age 49 to age 50 while waiting for a hearing, they will be bumped up into a category that allows disability benefits more easily. (Learn more about medical-vocational allowances.)
Many times, however, the difference in approval rates is due to this fact: for cases that are heard by ALJs, a disability lawyer is involved more often than not. Disability lawyers and representatives perform more hearing preparation and know about Social Security regulations procedures, two facts that help them win cases. Lawyers want very much want to win their cases (that's how they get paid) and, therefore, do everything possible to maximize those cases, particularly when it comes to gathering medical records and physician statements. (Read more about how disability attorneys prepare for hearings.)
In fact, the approval rate for applicants who go to an ALJ hearing with a lawyer or representative is about 60%, while the approval rate for applicants who go to hearing without one is closer to 40%.
Learn how to improve your chances of winning your disability hearing.