Appealing a Denial of Social Security Benefits

Ask for a second chance if your application for Social Security benefits is denied.
If your application for benefits is denied, you may not be out of luck. A substantial percentage of denials are reversed on appeal. For example, almost half of all disability appeals, which are by far the most common type of appeal, are favorably changed during the appeal process.
When to Appeal
If you truly don't qualify for benefits, you shouldn't waste your time by filing an appeal. But Social Security has been known to make errors or to be overly strict in its judgments (for example, over whether your illness is severe enough to prevent you from working). The appeal is your chance to correct such errors or persuade Social Security or the courts to judge your case differently.
Time Involved in an Appeal
In many situations, the appeal will require little more from you than taking another opportunity to explain why the information you already presented should qualify you for a benefit. In other cases, it will involve presenting one or two more pieces of information that better explain your situation to Social Security personnel.
How to Appeal
Begin your appeal by completing a one-page form called a Request for Reconsideration (SSA 561-U2), which you can get from the Social Security office or from the agency's website at
Most of the form is easy to fill out -- you'll be asked for basic information such as your name and Social Security number. Then you will need to state, very briefly, the reasons why you think you were unfairly denied benefits. When you submit your form, you can attach other material for the administrators to consider, such as recent medical records or a letter from a doctor or employer about your ability to work.
You must send in the completed Request for Reconsideration within 60 days after you receive written notice of the Social Security office's decision to deny you benefits (65 days if you received the notice by mail).
What to Include in Your Appeal
Think strategically about what else to include in your appeal. Put yourself into the shoes of whoever denied your claim, figure out why they were led astray, then consider what new evidence might back up your version of things. Psychologically, having new evidence to look at seems to help government workers change their minds. The most convincing evidence usually comes from an outside authority -- for example, an employer who writes a letter confirming the months that you worked, or a specialist explaining your physical limitations.
Levels of Appeal
There are four possible levels of appeal following any Social Security decision. The first is called reconsideration; it is an informal review that takes place in the local Social Security office where your claim was filed. The second level is a hearing before an administrative law judge; this is an independent review of what the local Social Security office has decided, made by someone outside the local office. The third level is an appeal to the Social Security National Appeals Council in Washington, D.C. The final level is filing a lawsuit in federal court.
                                                                                           For More Help ...
                                       For more information on appealing a denial of retirement benefits, see Social Security, Medicare & Government Pensions, by Joseph Matthews with Dorothy Matthews Berman (Nolo).

                                     For more information on appealing a denial of disability benefits, see Nolo's Guide to Social Security Disability, by David A. Morton III, M.D.