Initial and Reconsideration Determinations
Although a Social Security disability claim (but not an SSI disability claim) can be completed on the Internet at www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability/, most claimants initiate their claims by telephoning an SSA teleservice center at SSA’s toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. Teleservice center staff will make an appointment for the claimant with an SSA representative from a local office.
If you prefer, an appointment can be made to go to a local Social Security office to complete an application in person, though most make a telephone appointment for an SSA claims representative to call back at an appointed hour. During the appointment, you will be asked basic information which will be entered into a computer application form that will be printed and, if it is a telephone interview, will be mailed to the claimant for signature, along with other forms to be completed and signed. An application for benefits is one of the few forms in a disability case that may not be signed by a lawyer on your behalf, unless that lawyer is appointed to do so by a court. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.612 and 404.613.
The prohibition on a lawyer signing an application for benefits on your behalf includes a prohibition against a lawyer “electronically signing” an application that is submitted over the Internet, although a lawyer may assist in filing an application. See https://secure.ssa.gov/apps6z/iClaim/dib.
At the initial and reconsideration levels the SSA does not make medical determinations of disability. Instead, claims are referred to an agency of the state government that has a contract with SSA for determining disability. At the state agency usually a medical doctor and a layman, called a disability examiner, evaluate the claim, though SSA has been experimenting in pilot projects with having disability examiners make uncomplicated decisions on their own. The SSA then adopts the determinations at these two levels.
If you are dissatisfied with the initial determination, you may appeal. In most states, this appeal is a request for reconsideration. In ten states Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York and California, called prototype states, SSA is experimenting with eliminating the reconsideration step. The initial determination will tell a claimant in a prototype state to appeal by requesting a hearing. HALLEX I-2-4-99 contains instructions for processing appeals in those circumstances where a claimant moves into or out of a prototype state while the claim is pending.
If you request reconsideration, a different team than the one that issued the initial determination will make the reconsideration determination; but the result will probably be the same. Relatively few reconsideration determinations result in an award of benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.907 et seq. regarding reconsideration. The next step is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge.