Tips for Dealing with the Social Security Administration

Tips for Dealing with the Social Security Administration

Last updated: August 2005

This tip sheet lists a few important things for you to remember if you are applying for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, or if you receive Social Security or SSI benefits, for age, disability or retirement, or as a surviving spouse or child.

You Can’t Get Money If You don’t Apply

Benefits cannot start until you apply. For most kinds of benefits, you cannot receive any benefits for months before your application. By waiting to apply, you may lose the chance to get benefits you are entitled to. With regular Social Security disability, you may be able to get benefits for months before you apply, but the sooner you apply, the farther back those benefits may go. 

To learn more about how to apply for Social Security Benefits and SSI, see Financial Assistance: Social Security and Financial Assistance: Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

If You Are Turned Down, File an Appeal

Here are just a few of the reasons that it is so important to appeal if Social Security turns you down:

  • Sometimes Social Security makes mistakes. An appeal is your chance to prove that they made a mistake;
  • Many people win their appeals; and
  • The appeal may be your only chance to get your benefits.

More than half of the people who appeal when they are turned down for Social Security disability or SSI disability win their benefits on appeal.

Here is why appealing is so important in disability cases. Many, many people are denied when they first apply for disability benefits, even though they really are disabled. There are many reasons for this. It might be that not all of the medical evidence has been submitted to Social Security. The people who make the decisions on disability applications do not always consider important issues such as pain or other symptoms. The decision-makers do not meet the applicant in person.

Even though they are denied when they first apply, many people do receive their disability benefits if they follow through with their appeals. It is important to follow through to a hearing. If someone is turned down for disability, the first appeal is called a reconsideration. Not many people win their cases on reconsideration. If a person loses at reconsideration, however, there is another right to appeal. On this appeal, there is a hearing with a judge (called an administrative law judge) who hears only Social Security cases. The hearing is in person. These judges are very well trained and they consider all of the important evidence. Many people win their cases after these hearings. 

The only way to get a hearing with an administrative law judge is:

  • To file an appeal (called a request for reconsideration) from the denial of the application,
  • To complete the reconsideration, and
  • If the reconsideration is denied, to file another appeal.

To learn more about how to file an appeal, see How To Appeal a Decision by the Social Security Administration and view the Social Security & Disability Law Training webcast.

Be Sure to File Your Appeal on Time

All Social Security notices of denial should have a date at the top. You have 65 days from that date to file your appeal. Social Security’s notices may say you have 60 days to appeal; Social Security assumes, however, that the mail took 5 days to reach you, giving you a total of 65 days.

Important note: your appeal must reach Social Security by the 65th day. Putting the appeal into the mail by the 65th day does not count unless the appeal actually gets to Social Security by the 65th day.

If you are close to the deadline, take the appeal form to the Social Security office; do not risk the appeal form becoming lost in the mail. In unusual circumstances, a late appeal can be accepted by Social Security. Do not count on this! If you miss your appeal deadline for good reason, for example that you were in the hospital, file an appeal as soon as possible and talk to an attorney about your rights.

If Your Benefits Are Terminated or Reduced, File an Appeal

If Social Security makes a change in your benefits, reducing the amount it pays you or stopping payments all together, you have the right to file an appeal. You have 65 days from the date of Social Security’s notice telling you of the change to file the appeal. Important note: in almost all cases, if you file the appeal within 10 days of the date of the notice, you can ask Social Security to keep paying you while the appeal is pending. This can be very important, because it can take Social Security a long time to make a decision on your case, and you may need your benefits while you wait. You need to understand that you could be asked to repay the benefits if you lose your appeal and Social Security’s original decision to stop benefits turns out to be right.

It Is Almost Always Better to File an Appeal than to Make a New Application

Many people are discouraged if their application for Social Security disability or SSI is denied. They decide not to appeal.  A caseworker may even encourage them to wait a while and try again with a new application later. They wait a while and then apply again. This is not a good idea! In almost all cases, it is better to appeal than to wait and then to file a new application. This is important for all kinds of Social Security cases, not just disability cases.

Here are some of the reasons it is better to appeal than it is to reapply later:

  • On a new application, the decision will be made by the same staff who turned down the first application;
  • The best chance of winning is a hearing with a Social Security judge and filing an appeal is the only way to get the case to those judges;
  • By not filing an appeal, a person could lose benefits (money). This is because the date benefits will start depends on the date of the application. For example, for SSI disability, benefits cannot start until the person applies, even if the person was disabled before the application. If a person applies in June 2004 but does not appeal, he or she will lose SSI for June 2004 and all the months until a new application is filed. Filing an appeal could mean getting money for all those months; and
  • Sometimes it is not possible to reapply. For most disability cases, there is no rule against applying over and over and there is no limit on how many times a person can apply for disability. However, in some situations, once an issue is decided, it is decided forever. This is true for certain issues in both SSI and regular Social Security cases. It is also true in non-disability cases. If you have questions about this, you should ask a lawyer who is familiar with Social Security law.

Put It in Writing

This tip is important for any type of Social Security case or problem. It is important to put things in writing so there is no question later. For example, Social Security’s rules say that if you are getting disability and you go back to work, you must report this to Social Security. Important information like this should not be reported by telephone alone. Information should be reported in writing.

Make Copies and Keep Copies

Be sure to get copies of all important Social Security papers and keep the copies together in an envelope or file. If Social Security sends you a notice, keep it even if it does not seem important. If you file an appeal it is important to keep a copy of the form asking for the appeal. If you write to Social Security reporting that you have started working, keep a copy of your letter and be sure to write down the date you mailed the letter. If you [INVALID] papers at the Social Security office instead of mailing them, ask a Social Security worker to stamp your copy of the papers “received.” Keep your stamped copy. If you get information from Social Security by phone, write down the date and time of your call, the number you dialed, who you talked to, and what the worker told you. Keep the notes of your phone call with your other important Social Security papers.

Report Any Changes in Your Situation to Social Security

For all types of Social Security benefits, it is your responsibility to report changes such as change of address, getting married, returning to work, and receiving other types of disability benefits. For SSI, there are many things which must be reported, including all of the things just mentioned. Here are some of the other things you must report if you receive SSI:

  • If your spouse’s income changes,
  • If someone moves into or out of the house,
  • If you inherit money or win the lottery,
  • If you get help with living expenses,
  • If you are put in prison, if you enter a nursing home, and
  • If your immigration status changes. 

Again, these are just some of the things which need to be reported. To learn more about how to contact the Social Security Administration, click here.

When Social Security starts sending you benefits, it sends you a booklet listing these rules and many other rules. Read the booklet and keep it. If you do not have the booklet any longer, ask Social Security for a new copy. The following link explains the reporting requirements for SSI: What You Need To Know When You Get SSI. The following link explains the reporting requirements for regular disability: What You Need To Know When You Get Social Security Disability Benefits

If you are not sure whether you need to report something to Social Security, report it. The things listed in this tip sheet are just some of the things you need to report. It is much better to report something you were not required to report, than to fail to report something you should have reported. Make the report in writing and keep a copy.

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