What are my chances of getting approved for disability benefits?
The approval rate for Social Security disability (SSDI) and SSI claims varies, depending on the level at which claims are reviewed and where they are reviewed. Hearings are decided by federal ALJs, whereas the initial application and reconsideration are decided by state employees at state Disability Determination Services (DDS) agencies.
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 very severe impairment or medical condition, you, of course, have a better chance of winning your claim.
Where a claim is reviewed also has an effect on approval rates. The 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? 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 and medical consultants at DDS or ALJs at hearing offices. Decision making based on a "human reading" of a claimant's medical records and credibilityis, 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.