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  • Social Security Disability Claims

    Julian Law Firm represents clients in matters pertaining to: Personal Injury, Social Security Disability, Probate and Estate, Family Law, Real Estate, Contract, and Employment Law.

    This page relates to Social Security Disability claims in Western Pennsylvania, and includes information relating to:

    • Helping Clients through the Disability Claims Process with the Social Security Administration
    • Appealing Denials for Social Security Claims

    See our other practice area pages for more information on the many ways Julian Law Firm may assist you with your legal matters and estate planning needs.

    Disability Claims Process with the Social Security Administration

    The disability claims process with the Social Security Administration (SSA) is primarily done over the computer and by phone, and often includes mailing of various pieces of documentation. The Julian Law Firm has more than 40 years of experience in disability law practice, and our attorneys understand the process. We can guide clients through the Social Security disability benefits application and appeals process.

    Our attorneys can review the specifics of your individual disability claim to help ensure proper information is filed for review. Applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be a somewhat long and confusing process. On average, the SSA denies over three-fourths of first-time applications, which means it is critical to understand the claims process and when you should talk to a lawyer.

    When first diagnosed with a physical disability or mental health condition that prevents you from working and you determine that you are eligible for SSD benefits, an application is submitted. If you’re denied, you can choose to begin the appeals process. However, if your claim was denied, don’t give up. But you need to act fast: you only have 60 days to appeal.

    When a disability claim is denied in Pennsylvania, the first level of appeal for SSD is an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing (see below). Because of the large number of denied claims, the wait times for hearings can be very long. If the hearing result is not positive, you can move on to the Appeals Council, and then finally to Federal Court.

    The initial application for Social Security Disability (SSD, or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) disability is the same in every state, because both are federal programs. In Pennsylvania, a state agency handles the review of the initial disability application after the local SSA does a general overview of the application. Pennsylvania also offers a shortened appeals process, vocational rehabilitation services, and supplemental payments to the federal SSI.

    Bureau of Disability Determination in PA

    After your initial application is reviewed for basic eligibility by your local SSA office, it goes to the Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD), an agency the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The BDD is responsible for determining the medical eligibility of those applying for disability benefits. Claims examiners at the BDD may contact your doctors, with your permission, if they need more medical information regarding your impairments. They may also order you to undergo special examinations, at no cost to you, if necessary.

    The approval rate for initial disability applications is traditionally low. In Pennsylvania, the average approval rating is the same as the national average, with a rate of 32%.

    Appealing Denials for Social Security Claims

    In Pennsylvania, Social Security has streamlined the appeals process by eliminating the reconsideration step (a review on paper). The first appeal step is a hearing in front of a judge. In order to keep the right to appeal your disability decision, you must submit an appeal in writing within 60 days of receiving your determination letter from the BDD.

    Step 1: Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

    After you request an appeal hearing, you will be given a date for your hearing before an ALJ. The waiting times can be longer than the national average: the national average wait time for a hearing is 348 days; in Pennsylvania, the average wait time is 423 days, or almost 14 months!

    At your hearing, you will have the chance to present the most important parts of your case through questions and answers asked by the ALJ or your disability lawyer. You will also be able to bring a witness to testify about your impairments.

    The success rate for hearings is higher than initial application approvals. In Pennsylvania, the approval rating at hearings is higher than the national average. After a hearing, 60% of disability claimants are approved, 3.5% are given partially favorable decisions, and 37% are denied benefits. Having representation by a disability lawyer increases your chance of getting a favorable decision.

    Step 2: Appeals Council

    If your disability benefits are denied after the hearing, you may appeal to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council is also run by ODAR. The Appeals Council only hears cases that it determines to have been decided incorrectly.

    Step 3: File a Federal Lawsuit

    If the Appeals Council decides not to hear your case, decides your case unfavorably, or the ALJ rehearing results in an unfavorable decision, you have a final appeal option of filing a lawsuit in federal court. Pennsylvania has three federal district courts — Eastern District, Middle District, and Western District, based on where you live. Clients living in Western PA would file with the Western District.