Applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration in California often results in a denial. In fact, the nationwide averages indicate more than 50% of first-time Social Security disability applicants are denied. The SSA has established a multi-tiered appeal process, yet an even higher rate of denials occurs at the first appeal level, which is called reconsideration. The reasons for this have much to do with the fundamental manner in which the SSDI and SSI process operates.

Upon examination, it’s not surprising an initial application and reconsideration often have the same result. Although different SSA examiners evaluate each phase, the process is identical. This process entails an evaluation of medical records only and does not include any conversation or testimony from the applicant. Under SSA guidelines, if an applicant’s physical or mental impairments meet a listing of impairments established by the SSA, disability is most often approved. If the applicant’s situation is different, denial is a very real possibility.

However, if the claimant perseveres and files the second level of appeal, a hearing before an administrative judge is scheduled. At this hearing, the applicant can offer testimony to the judge and explain his or her impairments in greater detail. This is important because the majority of people who file for disability have individualized conditions that do not mirror the SSA’s listing of impairments.

At any stage of the disability process, it is permissible to be represented by a Social Security disability lawyer. This is especially crucial at the administrative hearing because, although less formal, it is very similar to a trial. When an applicant is represented by counsel at the hearing, the chances of an approval are significantly higher.