Social Security Disability Process

What to Expect When Applying for Benefits


Your Guide to the Social Security Benefits Claim Process

The process of obtaining Social Security Disability benefits can be a complicated, multi-step process. Below is a brief overview of what can be expected and required.


The first step in the process is applying for benefits, and there are three basic ways of applying:

  • You can apply in person at your local Social Security field office
  • You can apply by telephone
  • You can apply online

It typically takes 3-6 months to receive an initial determination.

70% of people are denied disability insurance at this stage. Many initial denials are due to preventable instances, such as incomplete applications and insufficient medical evidence. To avoid such delays, it is in your best interest to begin and proceed with the application process with the help of a Social Security Disability attorney. If you need assistance with your initial SSD application, the disability attorneys at Kerr, Robichaux and Carroll are here to help. Contact us for a free legal consultation today.


  • You must file an appeal within 60 days of having your initial application denied.
  • After you send in your request for reconsideration, your case will be reviewed by a person of an impartial party. All old evidence, and any new evidence that you submit, will be looked at.
  • When you appeal your denied disability insurance claim through a request for reconsideration, be aware that few negative decisions are reversed at this point in the process. This does not mean you should give up! It typically takes 3-6 months to receive a reconsideration decision.

Kerr Robichaux & Carroll can help you file for reconsideration. Even if we did not file the initial claim, we will file for reconsideration, and any other step necessary of the SSD application process.


If you are denied disability insurance and your request for reconsideration is also denied, you have 60 days from the second denial to request a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ will be impartial and will ultimately make their decision based off the evidence you provide, such as medical evidence and work history.

Although you may not have a hearing for some time, when the hearing does happen witnesses will be present. The administrative law judge and you will have the opportunity to question the witnesses. Witnesses can be doctors, coworkers, or any other person that can vouch for your case.

At this point in the appeals process approximately 60% of cases are approved.

It is very important to have legal representation at your hearing. Kerr Robichaux & Carroll has exceptional experience presenting cases to ALJs.


After the hearing, the ALJ evaluates the evidence in the case and issues a written decision. In evaluating the case, the ALJ must follow a five-step sequence:

  1. Is the claimant working? If the claimant is engaging in “substantial gainful activity” which is often determined by average monthly income from work, the ALJ will find the claimant not entitled to benefits. Exception: If the claimant was unable to work for 12 or more consecutive months due to his or her impairments but has returned to work by the time of the hearing, the claimant may be eligible for a “closed period” of benefits – that is, a lump-sum payment of benefits for the period the claimant could not work.
  2. Does the claimant have a severe impairment? A severe impairment has more than a minimal effect on the claimant’s ability to do basic work activities such as see, hear, speak, lift, carry, sit, stand, walk, concentrate, maintain a pace, or interact with others. If a claimant has a severe impairment, the ALJ goes to step 3 of the sequence. If not, the ALJ will find the claimant not entitled to benefits.
  3. Do the claimant’s impairments meet or equal a Listing? Social Security has set standards, called the Listing of Impairments, by which it rates certain impairments. If the claimant’s impairments meet or equal a Listing, the ALJ will find the claimant disabled. If not, the ALJ will go to step 4 of the sequence.
  4. Can the claimant return to his or her past relevant work (PRW)? PRW is generally work done in the past 15 years. The ALJ determines whether the claimant can return to any PRW given the limitations imposed by his or her impairments. It is up to the ALJ to determine what limitations are supported by the record in each claimant’s case. If the ALJ finds the claimant can return to PRW, the ALJ will deny the case; if the ALJ finds the claimant can’t return to PRW, the ALJ will go to step 5 of the sequence.
  5. Is there any other work available in the economy that the claimant can still do? To find a claimant not disabled, the ALJ must find that there are jobs the claimant can do. If there are no jobs the claimant can do, he or she is disabled. Even if there are possible jobs the claimant can do, some claimants can, based upon their age (generally 50 and above), “grid out,” that is, be found disabled based upon SSA criteria known as the “grids.” If the claimant does not grid out and the ALJ finds there are other jobs the claimant can do, the ALJ will find that claimant not disabled.

STEP FIVE: APPEALS COUNCIL REVIEW – if denied at hearing

The appeals council can deny your request for review of a denied disability insurance claim if it agrees with the ALJ’s decision.

You must request an appeals council review. This can be done through filing a written request and submitting any evidence you wish for the Appeals Council to consider. This must be done within 60 days of your notice of your hearing decision. The appeals council can either decide pertaining to your denied disability insurance claim or it can send the case back to an ALJ. Only 3% of appeals are reversed at this stage.


If you disagree with the decision made by the appeals council or the second ALJ, you can file a lawsuit to your federal district court in order to get your denied disability insurance claim reversed.

The federal court is best to contact if you believe there has been a legal mistake in your case. If you believe that there has been a factual mishap in your case, the federal court may turn your denied disability insurance claim over.

The federal court can either reverse your case or send your denied disability insurance claim back to an ALJ for another review.

The SSD application and appeals processes are difficult to navigate alone from beginning to end. This is why the highly skilled Social Security Disability attorneys at Kerr Robichaux and Carroll will guide you through step by step, no matter what stage of the process you are in. Do you need help navigating disability benefits? Let us do the work with you. Call our office toll-free at 503-255-9092 or submit a contact form on our website for a free legal consultation today.

Being unable to work and losing the ability to support yourself and your family can be devastating.
At Kerr Robichaux & Carroll, we know the significant impact that receiving disability benefits can have on our clients' lives. This is why our practice is devoted to one thing: maximizing benefits for every client.

We Make A Difference When You Need It Most.

There are many steps along the road to obtaining disability benefits. We know every detail about the claims process.

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