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The Different Stages of the SSD Application Process

By The Elmore and Smith Law Firm, PC on August 12, 2019 | In Social Security Disability

The Different Stages of the Social Security Disability Application Process

Disabled persons applying for social security disability benefits can face a long and sometimes difficult application process.  The social security disability application process consists of distinct major stages, which can individually take months or even years.  

The Initial Determination Stage

Once a person applies for social security disability, their first opportunity to obtain disability benefits is at the Initial Determination.  It takes an average of 3 to 6 months for an application for social security disability to be reviewed at this stage. At the initial determination, the disabled person’s application is reviewed by a state agency called Disability Determination Services.  North Carolina’s disability determination services are located in Raleigh, NC. Here, the social security disability application will be assigned to a caseworker who will obtain medical records and other documents to determine if the applicant meets the requirements for social security disability.  In North Carolina, on average, about 1/3 of social security applications are approved at the initial stage.  

The Request for Reconsideration Stage

If a social security disability applicant does not win at the Initial Determination, they must next proceed to the Request for Reconsideration stage.  Here, the disability application goes back to Disability Determination Services for a second look. This process takes on average around 3 to 6 more months.  Only about 7% of social security disability applicants are approved at this stage.

The Hearing Stage

If a social security disability application is denied a second time, they can request a hearing before a social security judge.  This stage is the first time a social security disability applicant will get to tell their disability story to a live person. At the hearing stage, a social security judge will review all the medical evidence, hear the testimony of the applicant and other witnesses, and determine if the case meets the definition of “disabled” pursuant to the rules.  The judge rarely announces the decision in the hearing and can take up to 2 months to issue a written decision. Unfortunately, the wait for a hearing can take a year or longer. A little over 50% of applicants are approved at this level.  


If the disability case is denied at the hearing, the disabled applicant can appeal the case to the Appeals Council.  There, the case is reviewed and, if the social security judge’s decision contained errors, it will be sent back to the hearing stage (called a “remand”).  A remand does not guarantee that the case will be decided favorably, only that the errors must be corrected. If the social security applicant’s case is denied at the Appeals Council, they can appeal the matter to their local federal district court.  In western North Carolina, that federal district court is located in Asheville, NC. Appeals can add months or even years to the length of a social security disability case.  

If you are applying for social security disability, The Elmore and Smith Law Firm can help you navigate the various stages of the disability application process and obtain your disability benefits.  Contact us today!