If your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits has been denied and you intend to appeal, you can either file a reconsideration request on your own or find an attorney to submit the reconsideration appeal letter for you.
Hiring an attorney to help you with your SSDI or SSI request for reconsideration can be very beneficial. Once the Social Security Administration (SSA) receives your appointment of representative (also known as SSA Form 1696), your lawyer can submit a reconsideration request for you and communicate with the SSA while your request is under review.
In all likelihood, if your first application was denied, your reconsideration appeal will be unsuccessful as well. Only about 15% of reconsiderations are approved. When it comes to being approved at the reconsideration appeal level, only applicants whose medical condition has gotten significantly worse since they initially applied have a good chance of getting approved at this stage.
A disability attorney or non-attorney representative may be able to help change your odds if you omitted something important on your application, but there's no guarantee. This means you'll likely have to file a second appeal.
The second appeal is decided by a federal administrative law judge (ALJ) at a disability hearing. Before your hearing, you should absolutely have legal counsel. If you haven't already, submit SSA Form 1696 after you receive your reconsideration denial letter, so that the ALJ who will be assigned to your case knows who your representative is. (Here's how a lawyer will help you at the hearing.)
Study after study has shown that ALJs are significantly more likely to award disability benefits to those who are represented than those who choose to represent themselves. Typically, about 40% of unrepresented individuals who apply for SSI or SSDI and have their case taken before an ALJ will end up winning disability benefits. About 60% of individuals who are represented (by an attorney or non-attorney rep) will end up winning disability benefits.
Since your reconsideration is likely to get denied and you'll need to hire an attorney for the hearing-level appeal anyway, you may want to consider finding an attorney right after you receive your initial denial, rather than wait. That way, your attorney can help you submit your SSI or SSDI reconsideration appeal review letter.
Your attorney can review your decision letter from the SSA and figure out why your application was denied. Then, when requesting the reconsideration review, your lawyer might be able to add something you left off your initial application or suggest you get a test that the SSA will want the results of.
If you can get a reconsideration approval, you could disability benefits right away rather than waiting a year or more for an appeal hearing. And the reconsideration itself takes long enough—an average of six months in 2022.
Most people are capable of filing their own appeal paperwork, and now there's the option of filing online, which makes it even more convenient. However, there's a tendency among applicants who need to file reconsideration appeals to miss the filing deadline. Social Security allows 60 days from the date of denial (plus a 5-day grace period for mailing time) for an appeal request to be received by the SSA office.
A surprising number of disability applicants miss this deadline. They make the mistake of thinking the deadline means that their request for reconsideration has to be postmarked within 60 days from when they received their notice of denial in the mail. But the appeal actually has to be in the Social Security office, not just postmarked, within 65 days from the date stamped in the upper right corner of the envelope that contained the denial notice. This is one reason why it can be a good idea to get a lawyer before you file an appeal—a good disability lawyer will file all appeal paperwork for you on time.
If you do decide to hire a disability attorney or non-attorney representative for your reconsideration appeal or for a disability hearing, don't put this task off until it's too late for the lawyer to be of any real help to you. To act on your behalf, your lawyer or representative must have certain forms signed, such as:
If you wait too long to hire an attorney, there won't be enough time to complete and submit the forms, and you'll have to request an appeal on your own so that you don't miss the 60-day deadline.
Learn more about the Social Security disability appeals process.
Updated March 31, 2023