The Disability Determination Process


Social Security disability claims are initially processed through local Social Security field offices and State agencies called Disability Determination Services (DDSs). If disability benefits are not awarded at this level, the claimant can appeal the decision. The first appeal is normally handled within the DDS but by a different adjudicator. If disability benefits are again denied, the claimant can appeal the decision to an Administrative Law Judge.


Initial applications for disability benefits are submitted to the Social Security Administration local field office either in person, by telephone, by mail, or via an online application process. The application and related forms ask for a description of the claimant's impairment(s); names, addresses, and telephone numbers of treatment sources; and other information that relates to the claimant's disability.

The local field office verifies nonmedical eligibility requirements, which may include age, employment, marital status, citizenship/residency and Social Security coverage information. For Supplemental Security Income eligibility, the field office verifies income, resources, and living arrangement information. The field office then sends the case to a State Disability Determination Service for disability evaluation. The DDS obtains medical evidence from the claimant's own medical sources and will arrange for other medical examinations as necessary. The DDS then makes the initial determination on whether the claimant is disabled under the law. If the DDS finds the claimant disabled, the Social Security Administration will compute the benefit amount, and begin paying benefits. If the DDS finds that the claimant is not disabled, he or she has 60 days to appeal the decision.


The first stage of the appeal is a request for reconsideration. It is handled very much like the initial application except that a different adjudicative team within the DDS makes the disability determination. If the DDS finds the claimant disabled at this stage, the Social Security Administration will compute the benefit amount, and begin paying benefits. Otherwise, the claimant has 60 days to appeal the decision.


If benefits are denied after reconsideration and a timely appeal is filed, the case is sent to a hearing office within the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. An administrative law judge is appointed and makes a determination , usually after conducting a hearing and receiving any additional evidence from the claimant's medical sources or other sources. It is particularly helpful to have an experienced attorney representing you at this stage to ensure that all relevant information about your disability case is presented to the hearing judge.


For more information or to schedule an appointment with an experienced Gilmer County attorney, please visit our contact page or call us at 706-389-9454.