What are the chances of winning at a disability hearing?
This is a fairly common question and a very logical one if you consider this one fact. In some parts of the country, it can take as long as a year to get to a hearing. And, in many parts of the country, it can take over two years. Obviously, waiting such a long time can exact a huge financial toll on a person. Obviously, as well, a claimant who "toughs it out" wants to win when their hearing actually occurs.
However, back to the question--what are the likely chances of winning a case at a federal disability hearing for SSD or SSI benefits? In actuality, there are several different ways to answer the question.
First of all, on average, a person who files for social security disability or ssi and gets denied on an initial claim will generally have a better chance of being approved later if they file appeals instead of filing a brand new application.
Why is this? Because claimants who get denied initially have their best chance of winning later on if they appear at a hearing. However, you cannot get to a hearing if you do not follow the SSA appeal system.
Now, what are the actual chances of winning ssd or ssi benefits at a hearing? Just as with initial claims and reconsideration appeals (the second step in the process---the hearing is the third step), the statistics for approvals and denials vary by state.
However, roughly fifty percent of all claimants who show up at social security hearings are approved. Considering that these same individuals were denied twice before (on the application and on the first appeal) those really aren't bad odds at all.
But the odds of winning at a hearing are even better for older individuals. Those in their fifties will often do better because the grid, a framework of rules that govern certain decisions on disability claims, favors older individuals. The grid takes into account the fact that fewer jobs are available to people who are older. It also takes into account the fact that it increasingly becomes harder to find new and different types of work.
And, of course, it should be said that claimants with representation will typically fare better than claimants who show up at hearings unrepresented. By some accounts, the chances of winning with representation may be 50 percent higher.
Why do claimants show up at hearings without representation? I'd like to say I haven't a clue because it is distressing that so many individuals think this is a wise course of action (if I had waited up to 2 years to get to a hearing, I wouldn't take my chances in front of a disability judge by going it alone, it simply wouldn't be worth the risk). However, I know for a fact that some social security disability and ssi disability claimants try to proceed unrepresented because they think they either
1. understand the disability system well enough to win their claim or
2. would rather not fork over 25% of their backpay to an attorney or non-attorney representative.
So, be it. But the saying "he who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer" is, in my opinion, a wise aphorism.
*If you'll notice, everytime a lawyer of some note gets in trouble with the law, he doesn't rely on his own expertise to represent himself. He gets another lawyer, despite the fact that he himself is a lawyer, to represent him. And quite frankly, in many cases it may not have anything to do with the competence of the unrepresented claimant. It may have more to do with the perceptions of the judge. But disability cases as much as I hate to say it are a subjective process and not objective.
Because if the process was truly objective, then judges would not be approving so many claimants who had, previously, been turned down by a disability examiner on an initial claim.
Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog
Appeal Deadline for disability cases
How long for getting a disability hearing scheduled
When should a person file for disability
Disability lawyers and attorneys