The process to get Social Security Disability benefits can seem daunting. Let’s break it down step by step:


Stage #1: Initial Application

When your first apply for disability benefits, you complete an Initial Application. This can be filed at your local Social Security office, over the phone or online. Rarely, your application will be approved at the Initial stage. More likely, your application will be denied, and three options remain: do nothing, file a new Initial claim, or file a Request for Reconsideration.

Stage #2: Request for Reconsideration

If your Initial application is denied, you have 60 days from the date of denial to file a Request for Reconsideration (Recon). At this stage, your claim is reviewed again by Social Security. If your Recon claim is approved, you will receive disability benefits. If not, three options remain: do nothing, file a new Initial claim, or file a Request for Hearing.

Stage #3: Hearing

When your Request for Reconsideration is denied, you again have 60 days from the date of your most recent denial to file a Request for Hearing. You have the greatest chance of being approved at this stage. The hearing takes place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and claimants will receive a Notice of Hearing before the hearing date. The hearing usually takes place at your local Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). While legal representation is not required for the hearing, it is highly recommended.

Stage #4: Appeals Council

You will usually receive a decision from the ALJ within a few months after your hearing. If your claim is approved, you will receive both a Notice of Decision and a Notice of Award. If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision before the Appeals Council. However, the Appeals Council frequently upholds the decision of the ALJ.

Stage #5: Federal Court Review

You will usually receive a decision from the Appeals Council within two years after filing. If your claim is approved, you will receive both a Notice of Decision and a Notice of Award. If your claim is denied, you can appeal the decision before the Federal Court. This is complicated process and it must be shown that the ALJ made a serious procedural error.

How Can Lewis, Lewis & Falkner Help You Get Disability Benefits?

No matter where you are in this process, an experienced attorney can help you.  Call our Tuscaloosa, Alabama office today at 205-553-5353 for your free consultation.


Have you ever wondered how old you have to be to qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?  Is there a minimum age? Can you be “too young” to be disabled? Read on to learn about how a claimant’s age can affect his or her disability benefits application.

How Age Factors Into the Disability Application Process

The Social Security Administration (SSA) considers several factors, including age, when determining whether a Claimant is entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits or Supplemental Security Income. In short, if you are over 50 your chances of being approved for disability benefits are higher than those of a younger person. This is because the SSA believes that it is difficult for older disabled workers to transition to a new career.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

The Social Security Administration has established five physical categories to help evaluate the type of work an individual can perform with the limitations caused by their disabling conditions: sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy work. Sedentary work requires that you lift up to 10 pounds at a time. Light work requires that you lift up to 20 pounds at a time and 10 pounds frequently. Work is also classified as skilled or unskilled.

Age and RFC

Claimants aged 18 to 44 are considered “young” individuals, those 45-49 are “younger” individuals. To be approved for disability benefits, individuals in these “young” and “younger” groups must be found to be unable to perform any unskilled sedentary work, that is, work involving mostly sitting with minimal concentration required.

Claimants aged 50-54 are considered to be closely approaching advanced age. Claimants in this group are considered disabled if they are limited to sedentary work, are unable to perform their past work, and have no transferable skills form past work.

Claimants aged 55 and over are considered “advanced age.” Claimants in this group are considered disabled if they are limited to light work, are unable to perform their past work, and have no transferable skills form past work.

Are you under 50 and applying for social security benefits? An experienced disability attorney can significantly increase your chances of receiving a favorable decision even if you are a younger claimant.

Call Lewis, Lewis & Falkner today at 205-553-5353 for a free consultation about your disability case.

Albert G. Lewis IV, disability attorney


The Social Security Administration has established guidelines for which conditions qualify a claimant for Social Security disability benefits based on mental impairments. These guidelines, found in the “blue book” of impairments, list several categories of mental disorders. These disorders include anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse disorders, and other conditions. 

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on mental illness, the individual must provide medical documentation that meets specific criteria. In addition to the specific criteria  for a particular disorder, there must also be evidence that the condition results in  one of the following:

  • an extreme limitation of one, or a marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning
  1. Ability to understand, remember, or apply information
  2. Ability to interact with others  
  3. Ability to concentrate, persist, or maintain pace
  4. Ability to adapt or manage oneself


  • The condition is “serious and persistent”. There is medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over at least two years and there is evidence of both:
  1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder; and
  2. You have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life.

            Below is a brief explanation of the medical documentation required for the more common types of mental disorders:

Anxiety Disorders

Medical documentation of three or more of the following;

  1. Restlessness;
  2. Easily fatigued;
  3. Difficulty concentrating;
  4. Irritability;
  5. Muscle tension; or
  6. Sleep disturbance.


Medical documentation of five or more of the following:

  1. Depressed mood;
  2. Diminished interest in almost all activities;
  3. Appetite disturbance with change in weight;
  4. Sleep disturbance;
  5. Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation;
  6. Decreased energy;
  7. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness;
  8. Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or
  9. Thoughts of death or suicide.


  1. Medical documentation of one or more of the following:
    1. Delusions or hallucinations;
    2. Disorganized thinking (speech); or
    3. Grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia.

            Regardless of your mental disorder, you must show that you are receiving and complying with treatment, preferably treatment by a psychologist or psychiatrist. It is important that you continue to undergo appropriate treatment during the pendency of your claim for Social Security disability benefits.

            These requirements may seem complex and overwhelming. Let us evaluate your claim and help guide you through the process.

Call Lewis, Lewis & Falkner today at 205-553-5353 to speak to one of our experienced social security disability attorneys. We are ready to help you get your life back on track.

Want to learn more about Social Security Disability? Check out our FAQ’s Section.

Are you disabled but don’t think you can afford to pay an attorney to help with your disability application or appeal?


The good news is that in general  lawyers do not charge upfront fees to work on a Social Security disability claim.

Instead, most disability attorneys are paid on a contingency fee basis, which means that if the claim is not won the attorney does not get paid a fee.

A disability lawyer and client sign a fee agreement that allows the Social Security Administration (SSA) to pay the attorney if the claim is approved. The SSA will review the agreement to make sure it meets certain fee agreement guidelines.

If SSA approves the fee agreement, the fee will be paid out of the disability award. The attorney and the client can agree on any fee, as long as it does not exceed $6,000, or 25% of the “back pay,” whichever is less.

For SSD benefits, “back pay” is the benefits owed from the date of approval back to the date SSA determined the disability began (for a maximum of 12 months back from the date of application).

For SSI benefits, back pay is calculated from the date of approval back to the month after application for benefits.

If a disability case requires multiple hearings or an appeal to the Appeals Council or federal court, a disability lawyer is allowed to file a fee petition with SSA to request to be paid more than the $6,000 limit. SSA will review the fee petition and will approve it only if it is reasonable.

Disability lawyers will also collect out-of-pocket expenses. These include costs from gathering medical records, copies, and postage. The client must pay these costs separately from the attorney’s fee mentioned above. Usually, copying and mailing costs in a case are not more than $100 – $200. Once the case has finished, regardless of outcome, the attorney will send the client a bill requesting reimbursement for any funds fronted on behalf of the client.

If you are ready to apply for disability or appeal an unfavorable decision call our office today at 205-553-5353. Your consultation is free, and we do not get paid unless you win.

How long do I have to appeal a denial of Social Security Disability Benefits?

If your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is denied, you have 60 days to file an appeal, unless you have “good cause” for failing to do so.

“Good cause” could be found if:

  • you did not receive the denial notice
  • you had a severe illness during the time the appeal was due rendering you unable to submit an appeal
  • you have severe mental limitations so that you did not understand what you need to do
  • Social Security misled you or gave you incorrect information
  • there was a death in your family

You must make your request to accept a late appeal in writing. You will need to submit a statement explaining why you failed to file a timely appeal.

Of course, the burden is on you to prove good cause.

The later your appeal is, the harder it will usually be for you to show that you have good cause. For example, if you were hospitalized during the appeal deadline, an exception would not be made if you waited 5 months after the hospitalization. You would have to file a new claim.

It’s important to act quickly so that you can get your appeal filed on time.  Let an experienced Social Security attorney help give you the best chance of receiving approval.  Call us today at 205-553-5353 or come by our office in Tuscaloosa for your free consultation.

How long does the social security appeals process take in Alabama?

In Alabama’s region it takes an average of 15 months for an Administrative Law Judge to become available to hear a claim.

Wait times are dependent on the workload in a geographic area and the amount of staff available to handle the number of claims. Some judges have a caseload of more than 300 cases! Alabama’s 15-month wait is long, but it’s not the longest: claimants in the New York area may have to wait as much as two years.

Is there any way to shorten the process?

Yes.  You may submit a “dire need” letter to the Social Security Administration explaining why you are in need of an expedited hearing. This letter will outline why waiting on a hearing will have severe consequences for you. The most common reason for a dire need letter is financial hardship. Lack of income might render you unable to afford necessary treatment or medication, you might be facing foreclosure, or for some other reason you and your family cannot afford to wait your turn.

Writing a dire need letter is not guaranteed to be effective but it is the only way to make the process move faster. An experienced disability attorney can help you prepare a dire need letter.  Call us today at 205-553-5353 for a free consultation to discuss your case.

Albert G. Lewis IV

My claim for disability benefits was denied… what should I do?

If you suffer from a long-term or permanent disability that prevents you from being able to work, you may have to file a claim for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA) in order to receive monthly Social Security Disability payments.

Almost 70 percent of initial applications for disability benefits are denied by the SSA.

If your application is in that 70 percent you have three options:

  • file a new claim,
  • appeal the denial, or
  • attempt to go back to work.

What should you do?

You should probably appeal the denial of the initial application.

If you are denied on your Social Security Disability or SSI benefit claim, you should request an appeal immediately, within the 60-day deadline.

Ready to file your appeal?

Call our Tuscaloosa office at 205-553-5353 and let us help!

Many Claimants give up after a denial or will file a new claim. Both of these choices are usually mistakes. While the appeals process is longer than the re-filing process, the chances are that your new application will be denied again for similar reasons that it was denied the previous time. Pursuing an appeal allows you to continue your claim for benefits while gathering more medical evidence.

An appeal has a better chance of winning.

The next step in the disability process is the disability hearing.  Almost half of all applications are approved at this level.  During this hearing, an Administrative Law Judge will listen to your explanation of why you are unable to maintain gainful employment due to your medical conditions. Present at the hearing will be a vocational expert, who will testify as to whether you are able to perform any work. Sometimes a medical expert will be at the hearing.

Although there is no way to be certain whether your appeal will be successful, you can increase your chances by understanding and addressing the reasons for denial. For example, your appeal might have been based on lack of medical evidence. While the appeal is pending, you can visit medical professionals. This will allow documentation of the medical conditions underlying your inability to work.

You should probably hire a lawyer.

Hiring a Social Security Disability attorney can significantly increase your chances of receiving a favorable decision during the disability appeal process.

This is because disability lawyers have experience with the rules and regulations of the SSA and are able to form a theory that explains why you are disabled.

Many people decide not to hire a disability lawyer because they are unable to afford to do so. A lawyer is paid out of a portion of your disability backpay (the money you are entitled to from the date it is adjudicated your disability began to the date you were determined to be disabled). A lawyer will not receive payment unless you win.

You have enough to worry about – let an experienced lawyer handle the social security appeals process for you. Our attorneys will treat you with the respect and compassion you deserve and will work diligently to help you win your disability case. Call us today at 205-553-5353 or come visit our office in Tuscaloosa for your free consultation.