Appeal Levels for Social Security Disability Benefits

Generally, there are four levels of appeal for Social Security Disability. They are:

  • Reconsideration.
  • Hearing by an administrative law judge.
  • Review by the Appeals Council and
  • Federal Court review.

Reconsideration of Social Security Disability

A reconsideration is a complete review of your claim by someone who did not take part in the first decision. The Social Security Administration will look at all the evidence submitted when the original decision was made, plus any new evidence.

Most reconsiderations involve a review of your files without the need for you to be present. But when you appeal a decision that you are no longer eligible for disability benefits because your medical condition has improved, you can meet with a Social Security representative and explain why you believe you still have a disability.


If you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you may ask for a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by an administrative law judge who had no part in the original decision or the reconsideration of your case. The hearing is usually held within 75 miles of your home. The Social Security Administration will notify you of the time and place of the hearing.

Before the hearing, the Social Security Administration may ask you to give them more evidence and to clarify information about your claim. You may look at the information in your file and give new information.

At the hearing, the administrative law judge will question you and any witnesses you bring. Other witnesses, such as medical or vocational experts, also may give us information at the hearing. You or your representative may question the witnesses.

In certain situations, the Social Security Administration may hold your hearing by a video conference rather than in person. They will let you know ahead of time if this is the case. With video hearings, they can make the hearing more convenient for you. Often an appearance by video hearing can be scheduled faster than an in-person appearance. Also, a video hearing location may be closer to your home. That might make it easier for you to have witnesses or other people accompany you.

If you are unable to attend a hearing or do not wish to do so, you must tell the Social Security Administration why in writing as soon as you can. After the hearing, the judge will make a decision based on all the information in your case, including any new information you give. The Social Security Administration will send you a letter and a copy of the judge’s decision.

Appeals Council of Social Security Disability

If you disagree with the hearing decision, you may ask for a review by Social Security’s Appeals Council.

The Appeals Council looks at all requests for review, but it may deny a request if it believes the hearing decision was correct. If the Appeals Council decides to review your case, it will either decide your case itself or return it to an administrative law judge for further review.

If the Appeals Council denies your request for review, the Social Security Administration will send you a letter explaining the denial. If the Appeals Council reviews your case and makes a decision itself, the Social Security Administration will send you a copy of the decision. If the Appeals Council returns your case to an administrative law judge, the Social Security Administration will send you a letter and a copy of the order.

Federal Court of Social Security Benefits

If you disagree with the Appeals Council’s decision or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you may file a lawsuit in a federal district court. The Social Security Administration will send you a letter about the Appeals Council’s action and will also tell you how to ask a court to look at your case.

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Michael established The Sawaya Law Firm in 1977 and built it into one of the largest personal injury law firms in Colorado, with more than 20 lawyers and 80 staff members serving clients from five offices located in Denver, Greeley and Colorado Springs. Throughout its history, the firm has stayed true to its 12 Core Values, which emphasize excellence in advocacy and a commitment to providing outstanding client service. Michael studied sociology and economics as an undergraduate student at The Colorado College, and he earned his law degree from the Texas Tech University School of Law. In addition to being involved in several legal and community organizations, Michael enjoys playing music and cooking, and he has written a book on spiritual matters.