St. Louis disability lawyer describes the Social Security disability application and appeal process

Filing your application for Social Security disability benefits

Callers and visitors to my St. Louis disability law firm often ask whether they need the assistance of a disability attorney. St. Louis and other Missouri residents can apply for Social Security disability benefits without an attorney. But early assistance from a disability attorney is advisable. Some of the questions on the Social Security application forms can be tricky to answer. A knowledgeable St. Louis disability lawyer can guide you and prevent costly mistakes. If I am your lawyer, I will be happy to assist you with your application.

The Social Security Administration provides three methods for making an initial application:

  1. Apply on line at
  2. Apply over the phone.
  3. Apply at your local Social Security office.

If you decide to apply in person or by phone, you will need to make an appointment first by calling 1-800-772-1213.

The initial disability determination

The Social Security Administration reviews your application to make sure you can qualify for disability benefits based on your work record or on your financial need in the case of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. If you meet the work or financial need requirements, Social Security sends your application to the Missouri Disability Determination Services (DDS) to evaluate your medical condition.

DDS is a state agency that contracts with the Social Security Administration to conduct disability evaluations. DDS will request your medical records and information from your doctors about your condition. They may also ask you for additional information or request that you undergo further medical examinations if your medical records are insufficient.

DDS will review your medical records and the information you have provided and make a decision on your initial application. You will be notified in writing whether your claim has been approved or denied.


Do not be discouraged if your initial application for disability benefits is denied. About two-thirds of all applications for Social Security disability benefits are denied. But the odds improve substantially if you press forward with appeals.

There are four possible levels of appeal in Missouri:

(1) Reconsideration,
(2) Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge,
(3) Appeals Council review, and
(4) Appeal to federal court.

St. Louis disability claimants should be prepared to pursue their claims at least through the first two levels. Why? More than half of the applicants for disability benefits who persist through a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge are awarded disability benefits. So, if your physical or mental condition keeps you from working and you are denied benefits, appeal your claim at least through the hearing stage.


Your first appeal is called a request for reconsideration. At the reconsideration level, the DDS takes a second look at your file, but the review is by different decision makers than the ones who denied your initial application. Not surprisingly over 80 percent of requests for reconsideration are denied. Regardless, you must follow through with this step to get to the next level.

The administrative hearing

If your request for reconsideration is denied, the next step is to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. This is the level in the appeals process at which you are most likely to succeed.

Why? With only a file to review, DDS decision-makers don’t often look beyond your medical findings to consider your actual ability to work.

Administrative law judges, in contrast, tend to look at the entire case. In addition to your file, the judge has the benefit of live testimony from you and your witnesses. The judge will see you, hear your testimony about what you can and cannot do, and listen to testimony from your witnesses about how your life has been affected by your impairment.

To illustrate the difference, a comparison of disability decisions issued by state agencies and disability decisions issued by administrative law judges showed the following approval rates:

  • Back disorders. State agencies approved only 22 percent of applicants, while judges approved 70 percent of those who appealed.
  • Osteoarthritis. State agencies approved only 43 percent of applicants, while judges approved 70 percent of those who appealed.
  • Diabetes. State agencies approved only 19 percent of applicants, while judges approved 67 percent of those who appealed.

These statistics strikingly show the benefits of appealing. For information and tips about requesting reconsideration and an administrative hearing, see Advice for appealing or download our free e-booklet, Helpful suggestions for appealing a denial of benefits.

Get help from a St. Louis disability lawyer

Whether you need help with your initial application or with an appeal, please contact me. Having a skilled St. Louis disability attorney on your side can significantly improve your chances of success at each step in the process.

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