Many people in San Diego who have some knowledge of how Social Security disability works, including those who read this blog, may have figured out that many applicants for benefits will at some point in the process need to appeal the Social Security Administration's decision. Appeals of denied claims for SSDI benefits or SSI benefits can be thought of as a three-step process, although these three steps do not account for the fact that applicants can also ask for a field office to reconsider the initial application for benefits.
The first step in the process is for an applicant to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Although these judges are committed to acting independently and to giving a full and fresh look at every application, this is still technically an internal process of the Social Security Administration. The hearing proceeds a lot like a trial, except there is no lawyer advocating for the Social Security Administration. The administrative law judge will, on a relatively informal basis, hear evidence and decide whether the applicant qualifies for benefits.
If an applicant is not satisfied with the judge's decision, then the applicant may elect to forward the case to the Appeals Council. The Council will examine the administrative law judge's decision and the reasons for that decision. If the Council feels like corrective action is needed, it may issue its own opinion on the case, which will overrule that of the administrative law judge. It may also send the case back to the administrative law judge for further review.
Finally, if a person is not satisfied with the Appeals Council's decision, the applicant can remove the case from the hands of the Social Security Administration by filing a lawsuit in federal court. There is an additional cost for doing so.