Every disability case is different, so looking at the odds of approval at a disability hearing doesn't mean that you have the same chance of getting benefits when you file an appeal. But you can almost always bet that your chances will generally improve when you go to a hearing. Here are the averages, and what your chances of approval depend upon.
Most states have a review of the initial decision on paper before an appeal hearing; that first paper review is called a reconsideration. The review is actually done at your state's Disability Determination Services (DDS) bureau, not at Social Security.
On average, the approval chances on reconsideration are only 13%. This means that only in 13% of the cases that were originally denied, DDS reversed the denial into an approval. The rest were denied a second time.
There's not much you can do to improve your chances of winning a reconsideration, except to go to the doctor and make sure that DDS has your most recent medical records.
At the hearing level, nationally, only 47% of all ALJ hearings are won by disability claimants. But being represented by a disability lawyer at the hearing level can raise your chances significantly. A Social Security study found that those who brought a representative to a hearing were three times more likely to get an approval as those who weren't. (We recently completed our own study of SSDI and SSI approval rates by asking our readers about their outcomes. Our study showed that readers' chances more than doubled when they were represented by a lawyer at the hearing; see our survey results on the odds of getting benefits after a disability hearing.)
The chances of winning on appeal can depend on a variety of factors. For instance:
One reason that the chances of being approved at the hearing level of appeal are higher is that it takes so long to get a hearing; by then, many applicants have deteriorated physically or mentally, making their disability claim more clear cut.
But the chances of winning a disability appeal depend on so many factors that it's not possible to predict the outcome of your own hearing. A good way to improve your chances is to stay on top of things by staying in touch with the disability examiner assigned to your case and by keeping all parties involved updated on your situation. Learn more about how to improve your chances of winning disability benefits at a hearing.
The chances of approval at the next level, the Social Security Appeals Council, are worse than any other level of appeal: only 1% of these cases are approved. Another 9% get sent back to the hearing level for the ALJ to decide if the case merits a different decision, and the rest (90%) are denied or dismissed.
The reason disability claimants generally bother appealing to the Appeals Council is that it's a required step on the way to appealing in federal court.
The chances of winning an appeal in federal court are barely better than at the appeals council—2%—but a large number of cases are at least given a second chance. Federal judges send almost half of the disability cases they hear back to the hearing level, directing the ALJ to look at issues that were not properly considered at the original hearing.