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.


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