While a doctor’s diagnosis of being disabled is definitely worth is weight in gold, it is not the deciding factor in a Social Security Disability case. His/her opinion is just that, an opinion. In other words, your doctor’s diagnosis is supporting evidence that substantiates your claim of disability, but again he/she does not have the final say so.
After an individual files a Social Security disability claim, the case is sent to a disability examiner at the Disability Determination agency in your state. This individual, working with a doctor, makes the initial decision on the claim. Be cautioned, most cases at this level are denied. In fact, 75% of the cases at this level are denied.
If your claim is denied, then you must file Form SSA-561, also known as the “Request for Reconsideration.” The request for reconsideration form can be found here: http://www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-561.pdf . This form must be completed and mailed within 60 days from the date the initial decision is made. Note, I said 60 days from the date the decision is made, not 60 days from the day you receive the decision. After a “Request for Reconsideration” is filed, the case is then sent to another disability examiner at the Disability Determination agency, where it follows a process similar to the one above.
If your claim is again denied at reconsideration, you are then afforded an opportunity to request a hearing. At this point, the case is sent to an Administrative Law Judge who works for the Social Security Administration. A hearing is set, and following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge will enter his/her independent decision based upon your claim and the medical documentation provided. This is the only level in which you, the claimant, and the decision maker are able to see each other. It is at this level that many claims are finally approved.
From start to finish, the process can take from six months to several years. There is no guaranteed formula to make the process any quicker. However, a skilled attorney can do things that can speed up the process. He/she may even be able to get you a favorable ruling entered without a hearing. As noted before, when considering an attorney to represent you in your disability matter, take into consideration things like his/her experience level. For instance, is he/she new to the disability field, or has the attorney been practicing in this area for many years.