If your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was denied, you’re not alone. The truth is that more applications are denied than approved, especially in the early stages. But you don’t need to accept that early denial.

According to its 2018 annual report, the Social Security Administration (SSA) approved only 22% of the initial applications it received between 2008 and 2017. That news can be disheartening, but the good news is that the SSA approves tens of thousands of applications each year upon later review or appeal.

The SSDI appeals process

There are several levels to the SSDI appeals process, but the first two often matter most. Not only do you want to get your application approved sooner, but the work you do in these early stages lays the foundation for any future reviews:

  • Reconsideration. If the SSA denies your application, it will send you a letter that explains why it was denied. If you don’t agree with the decision, your first step is to request that someone else with the SSA takes a completely new look at your application. You can submit new evidence or information along with this request.
  • Hearing with an administrative law judge. If the SSA denies your claim, even after reconsidering it, you can request a hearing with an administrative law judge. This usually takes place within 75 miles of your home and can involve lawyers, witnesses and sworn testimony.

It’s worth noting that far more applications are approved after a hearing than upon reconsideration. The SSA’s annual report shows hearings lead to benefit approvals somewhere between four and five times as often as reconsiderations.

How to prepare for a hearing

If you want to fight your denial, you should expect to attend a hearing. In a hearing, you’ll have the chance to present your case to a judge. You’ll want to make it count, so it’s usually a good idea to work with an attorney who has SSDI experience. A good lawyer can:

  • Review your case and submit any new evidence to support your claim
  • Understand the issues of your case before you take them to the judge
  • Prepare you for any questions you may need to answer
  • Question witnesses
  • Argue your case within the appropriate legal framework

After your hearing, the judge will weigh the evidence and decide to grant or deny your disability benefits.

What’s your best chance of success?

If your initial application is denied, your best chance for approval is at a disability hearing. More than half of these hearings lead to approval, and that rate rises when applicants work with attorneys. Your odds of approval drop sharply beyond this stage.