In order to commence the disability application process, an individual must file an application for benefits. This can be done online, over the phone, or at a local SSA office. During this process, the SSA will inquire regarding the applicant’s financial situation. If it appears the individual might have entitlement to SSI, a separate application for those benefits will be filed.
If the SSA concludes the applicant is not entitled to disability benefits, a denial will be issued. The applicant will then have a period of 60 days in which to appeal the denial through the filing of a Request for Reconsideration (RFR). If the SSA concludes the evidence fails to establish the existence of a disability, a second denial will be issued. Again, the applicant will have a period of 60 days in which to appeal the denial through the filing of a Request for Hearing (RFH). This is significant point in the case, because whereas the first two levels (initial application and reconsideration stages) produce determinations made by employees of the SSA, the filing of a RFH will ultimately result in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
In the Tampa Bay area, a typical initial application will be decided within approximately 90 days. Similarly, the RFR will also be decided upon with approximately 90 days. However, at the RFH stage, delays of between 12 -0 18 months are not uncommon. These timelines produce an overall disability application process of between 18 – 24 months.
Of course, not all applicants are required to exhaust all three adjudicatory stages. A applicant with a clearly established disability could be approved either at the initial application stage or at the RFH stage.. However, the vast majority of applicants are required to exhaust the three – phase process. Establishing entitlement at either the IA or RFR stages requires not only compelling medical evidence of disability, but also a combination of advanced age (over 50 years of age) and past relevant work (PRW) that is of an exertional level significantly beyond that the claimant’s current level of functioning
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