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Does everyone get denied SSI the first time?

Getting approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits can be a long and challenging process. Many applicants are denied on their initial application and must appeal the decision, going through multiple stages before finally getting approved. According to statistics from the Social Security Administration (SSA), around 65% of initial SSI claims are denied.

Why are so many initial claims denied?

There are a few key reasons why a high percentage of initial SSI claims get denied:

  • Strict eligibility criteria – To qualify for SSI, you must meet Social Security’s definition of disability. This means you have a physical or mental condition that prevents you from working and is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death. Meeting this criteria is difficult.
  • Insufficient medical evidence – Many applicants do not provide enough objective medical documents to prove their conditions are disabling. Lacking detailed records from doctors can get a claim denied.
  • Incomplete applications – Failing to fill out all sections of the SSI application and provide all required documentation can also lead to a quick denial. SSA needs complete info to evaluate the claim.
  • Financial resources – Applicants cannot have substantial savings, assets or household income exceeding strict limits. Having resources above thresholds results in instant denial.
  • Work history issues – Your recent work history is reviewed to determine if you engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) despite claiming disability. Doing SGA will disqualify you.

Unless an applicant fully meets the medical and financial criteria, with strong documentation, the claim will likely be denied upon first application.

Denial rates by medical condition

Denial rates can vary substantially depending on the applicant’s primary disabling condition. Here are some statistics on initial denial rates by impairment type:

Impairment Initial Denial Rate
Musculoskeletal system disorders 61%
Mental disorders 67%
Neurological disorders 59%
Cardiovascular system disorders 58%
Digestive system disorders 63%
Respiratory system disorders 62%

As the data shows, claims for mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar disorder have the highest rate of initial denial at 67%. Musculoskeletal conditions like back pain, joint disorders and muscular dystrophy have the next highest rate at 61%. Across most body systems and impairments, the norm is a 50-70% initial denial rate.

Does getting denied mean you are ineligible?

No, getting denied for SSI initially does not necessarily mean you are actually ineligible. Many fully disabled applicants get wrongly denied at first but then approved later on in the process. Reasons for incorrect denials include:

  • Insufficient medical evidence submitted – More records or testing may be needed to establish severity of your condition. SSA did not have enough documentation on which to make an approval decision.
  • Mistakes in financial assessment – Errors in calculating income and resources may have made you seem financially ineligible at first.
  • Incomplete work history data – Lack of full details about your past jobs led to the wrong conclusion about your ability to work.
  • Examination errors – Mistakes made by medical or psychological consultants who examined your records could produce an erroneous denial.

None of these reasons mean you cannot meet the SSI disability criteria. Upon appeal, you will have additional chances to prove your case with more medical and financial details, as well as testimony at a hearing.

Appeal success rates

Fortunately, SSI applicants who appeal their initial denials have a good chance of reversal and eventual approval. Here are SSA statistics on outcomes at different appeal stages:

Appeal Stage Approval Rate
Initial application 35%
Reconsideration request 13%
Administrative law judge hearing 56%
Appeals Council review 26%
Federal District Court appeal 62%

Over half of applicants who pursue an administrative law judge hearing get approved at that level. Approval rates at subsequent levels continue to exceed initial and reconsideration denial rates. This data indicates that persisting through the appeals process is worthwhile and often results in an eventual award of benefits.

How long does the appeal process take?

The SSI appeals sequence can be lengthy. Here is an overview of approximate wait times at each stage:

  • Initial application: 3-6 months for decision
  • Request for reconsideration: 1-3 months wait
  • Administrative law judge hearing: 8-12 months wait
  • Appeals Council review: 1-2 years wait
  • Federal court appeal: 1-3 years wait

In total, it can take 2 to 4 years to go from initial claim to final court appeal approval. The process requires persistence and patience. Having an experienced Social Security disability attorney can help speed up appeals and increase approval odds.

Tips to avoid initial denial

While approval on the first try is rare, there are some steps applicants can take to potentially avoid that initial SSI denial and improve their chances:

  • Get representation from the start – Having a disability lawyer or advocate helps ensure proper documentation.
  • Submit all medical evidence – Obtain detailed records from all doctors, hospitals, therapists covering your conditions.
  • Follow treatment plans – Complying with prescribed treatments boosts your credibility as disabled.
  • Watch financial limits – Minimize assets and income before applying.
  • Stop working activity – Refrain from any work activity while applying and appealing.
  • Keep appeal options open – If denied, immediately request appeal deadlines.

Even following these steps, however, getting denied initially is still highly likely due to the complexity of the system and stringent approval guidelines. Focus should be on promptly filing your request for reconsideration if this happens.

Should you get a lawyer for an appeal?

Hiring a lawyer or disability representative for your SSI appeal is highly recommended. An experienced attorney can significantly boost your odds of success by:

  • Mastering complicated SSA rules and criteria
  • Obtaining additional medical evidence missed before
  • Guiding you through required procedures
  • Preparing persuasive appeal briefs
  • Representing you at hearings
  • Answering judge questions
  • Challenging improper denials
  • Navigating multiple appeals if needed

While Social Security representatives are limited to charging 25% of retroactive benefits awarded, they are well worth the cost in successfully overturning denials in most cases.

Getting approved on appeal

Here are some key steps in getting your SSI denial reversed and obtaining benefits approval on appeal:

  1. Consult with a disability attorney – Retain an experienced lawyer to handle your appeal.
  2. Gather new medical evidence – Have updated records sent supporting worsening of your condition.
  3. Meet all deadlines – Carefully comply with all requests for information.
  4. Testify at your hearing – Thoroughly describe limitations preventing you from working.
  5. Submit supporting lay statements – Have friends, former co-workers submit letters corroborating your impairments.
  6. Highlight key facts – Ensure the judge understands why you cannot work and meet disability standards.
  7. Stay persistent through multiple appeals if needed – Keep fighting denial decisions until benefits are awarded.

With a meticulous and proactive appeal approach, you have an excellent chance of getting that initial denial reversed. Many applicants who follow through and appeal end up receiving SSI benefits in time.


Getting denied for SSI disability benefits on your first application is an almost universal experience. Well over half of all claims are rejected initially due to the stringent medical and financial criteria. However, this does not mean you are actually ineligible. By pursuing the appeal process, gathering additional evidence, and securing representation, approval odds increase dramatically. While waiting through multiple stages can be frustrating, most persistent applicants succeed in reversing the denial and getting awarded benefits eventually. Staying the course through a methodical appeal is key to overcoming an initial SSI rejection.